Ad Colors: Are Yours Attracting or Repelling Sales?
It’s easy to spend hours contemplating every word we use in our subject lines, headlines, calls-to-action and descriptions. We put so much effort into being compelling enough to capture attention, inspire action and secure new customers. Yet, if we pay attention to some basic psychology, we find these words are not as important as the colors we use in our marketing materials.
Colors are critical to the first impression our brand makes with consumers, and we all know how critical first impressions are for determining our attractiveness and interest in something or someone. Some studies suggest that those critical first impressions are made in just seven seconds; this is far less time than it takes to read all of those carefully crafted words we stress over with every ad or post we write.
Research conducted by the CCI Color Institute for Color Research and the University of Winnipeg shows 62 percent to 90 percent of the judgments we make about things we encounter are based upon color. Psychologists continuously study the impact color has on our behavior, as well. Does it make us eat more? Does it make us more productive? And most importantly for businesses, does it make us buy more?
There are numerous studies and theories about color’s impact on our moods — from Feng Shui’s claims about the karma and moods color creates, to more formal studies from the groups like the Color Association of the U.S. Regardless of the sources you cite, the bottom line is that color matters — a lot. It directs that first impression to assign attributes of trustworthiness, friendliness, fun, joy, calm and other attractive traits like spunk, high energy, nostalgia, love and peace.
Take a look at red, a popular color for brands in all industries. Marketers like it because it catches attention. Restaurants like it sparingly, as it has been shown to suppress appetites when used too much — but to spark hunger when used as an accent. Studies from various groups show that red can increase your energy, anxiousness, heart and respiratory rates. Too much red in a setting can make us want to get up and go. Not what stores or restaurants want to achieve.
On the other hand, light shades of blue have been shown to calm people and inspire them to eat more in restaurant settings and to create feelings of trustworthiness, calm and intellect, while sparking productivity.
Which Color Is Best?
The big question about the use of color in marketing is simple: Do a brand’s colors impact shopping behavior and, ultimately, sales? And in the case of red and blue as dominant brand colors does it really matter?
Well, there’s a study that answers this question as clear as black and white. Rajesh Bagchi, Associate Professor of Marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, conducted a study to compare the sales influence of blue vs. red. He and his associate, Amar Cheema from the University of Virginia studied sales on predominantly red websites vs. those on predominantly blue websites, as well as sales across predominantly red and blue retail environments. Very interestingly, their research found that the likelihood of a purchase is lower with red backgrounds than blue backgrounds.
Could it be that too much red in a retail setting makes us more energetic and thus anxious to leave, like it supposedly does in restaurants; while blue, as suggested by the restaurant studies, makes us relax and linger longer?
Colors play other important roles in other businesses beyond restaurants and retail. For example, blue is solid in banking, as it’s the color of trust and intelligence. Green also does well in the financial services industry as, in our country, it represents wealth, money, stability and balance. However, in other countries and cultures, color meanings and influences can change.
Choosing which colors are most likely to attract your core consumers, inspire them to engage with your message and impact their shopping behavior is an important strategy that is easy to take for granted. The first step is to determine which values matter most to your core consumers. Then choose the colors that reflect those values, using them in a way that projects the brand to build interest and sales.
Faber Birren, a pioneer in color research and author of “Color Psychology and Color Therapy,” conducted a survey that reveals what people themselves say of the values and attributes they associate with various colors. The following is a summary of the associations he found:
- Trust: Blue
- Security: Blue
- Speed: Red
- Cheapness: Orange, with yellow as a close second
- High Quality: Black
- High Tech: Black with a small margin over blue and gray tied for second
- Reliability: Blue
- Courage: Purple and red
- Fear/Terror: Red
- Fun: Orange, with yellow as a close second
In some cases these responses duplicate what color psychology experts tell us, and in others not. For example, most mood and color association charts show yellow as logical, personal, powerful and humorous. Yet in U.S. culture, yellow also represents caution, elliciting the image of a crime scene or dangerous event. This is where testing makes sense.
Create a new ad campaign or brand iconology and produce it in various colors. Send it to your customers to ask them which caught their attention first and what words or thoughts first came to mind. This experiment has always been very telling for how people see brand value differently through different colored lenses.
Taking some time to study what colors really mean to consumers’ conscious and unconscious minds is time well-spent, regardless of your industry or if you’re B-to-B or B-to-C. The wrong colors could project the wrong values and that could be totally wrong for your bottom line.
Some steps to take to help color your brand successfully:
- Work to identify the values, attributes and even personality traits with which you want your brand to be associated.
- Choose traits that reflect the lifestyle, values and interests of your core consumer.
- Study color wheels, mood charts, Feng Shui and psychology reports on color and behavior to guide your choices for all things associated with your brand.
Clever words, offers and compelling content will fall short of reaching your goals if your first impression is not a powerful statement about your brand’s values and experiences. Pay attention to the colors you use and the colors that attract your consumers. Soon, you will discover that you change behavior simply by changing colors.
Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at Jeanette@e4marketingco.com.