CGI vs. Real Photos

CGI - Great For Movies, But Does It Help Sell Cars?

Redline wanted to find out, so we surveyed 300+ people within the US, and here’s what we found:

– People are 65% more confident when contacting a dealership if they are presented with real photos when compared with CGI images.

92%+ of people would submit a lead on a car with real photos before submitting one for an “identical” vehicle with CGI.

88% of people would submit a lead on a car with real photos before submitting one for an “identical” vehicle with CGI even if that vehicle with real photos costs “slightly more.”

Impact on Perceived Value

We asked a follow-up question later in the survey to hone in and verify if people believe showing real photos of a vehicle increases that vehicle’s perceived value compared with a vehicle displaying only CGI images. 85% of people said “yes” real photos increase value.

We asked them why they felt that way. Here are a few of their unedited responses:

“Because they are real, the actual photos, good, bad, or indifferent. Computer-generated photos are an insult to use for ads regarding Autos for sale.”

“I’ll never buy something if it does not have a real image.”

“The use of CGI photos can come off as dishonest.”

“Seeing actual photos promotes integrity between seller and buyer. It’s crucial to build honesty to maintain a good business model.”

For a non-required open-answer question we were honestly shocked with the response. People were very passionate that real photos were superior to computer-generated images. To illustrate the opinions of the survey respondent for that open-answer question.

Redline made two-word clouds: one for words clearly referencing or commenting on CGI, and another for words clearly referring to real photos:



Real Photos


People Prefer Real Photos - Does That Translate to Dollars?

Spoiler alert: Yes!

We asked the 85% of people who believe real photos increase value, “Assuming you’re shopping for a $35,000 vehicle online, what is the MAXIMUM cost difference that you would still rather inquire about a vehicle that had real photos rather than computer generated images?”.

Respondents were given 7 varying options between $10 and $2,000+. The average response was that real photos increased the perceived value of a $35,000 vehicle by $542.22, 1.55% of the list price.

A $15 photo collection service would generate a 36X ROI. That same $15 photo service on a $50,000 vehicle (assuming the 1.55% increase holds true) would generate a 52X ROI, representing a $774 price increase.

Confidence, Value, and Income

People who earn more generally are the ones buying more expensive vehicles. Higher cost vehicles seeing similar (or higher) percent increases with real photos compared with CGI is validated because those earning $100,000+ per year responded to this question with an average increase of $587.

These high-income individuals’ average “confidence level” looking at vehicles with CGI photos was just “39” (out of 100) which is 19% lower than the general car-owning pool responded.

Similarly, these high-income individuals had significantly more confidence “81” when looking at real photos, compared with “74” (out of 100) which is 9% higher than the general car-owning pool responded. This shows a strong correlation between “confidence” and perceived value.

Can People Tell The Difference Between Real Photos and CGI?

Generally, yes. When shown two vehicles of the same color at the same time, three different times, respondents indicated they were able to tell the difference between real and CGI photos an average of 84% of the time. Removing respondents age 60+ increased the success rate by 2%; 88% of respondents age 18-59 years indicated they were able to tell the difference between the real photos and CGI photos.

The Takeaway:


When asking 300+ people about online vehicle shopping, it’s clear that real photos increase online shopping confidence. That confidence translates into higher perceived value for vehicles shown with real photos. Dealerships that leverage real photos will get more leads sooner than those dealerships utilizing CGI.

As experts in the automotive photography space for over 15 years, Redline can help you elevate your vehicle imagery with real, high-quality photos that clearly help increase value and shopper confidence. Contact us today to see the Redline Advantage for yourself!

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Redline is dedicated to helping modern dealerships engage, communicate with, and cater to modern, tech savvy car shoppers. Our unique proprietary suite of products and services optimizes and redefines how automotive dealers reach, retain, market, and sell to customers — front end, back end, all ends.

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