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Advertising in all colours of the rainbow

colours and advertising

Colour choice with marketing and design

We all know that colours are important in the design of any type of visual communication. But often we use colour specifically for making something more ‘beautiful’. For effective use of colour, it is good to understand some of its surprising qualities. Colour is more than just a property of the form that you create. Colours communicate.

The basics of colours

“Een ander probleem:”Kun je mijn lime-kleurige broek aangeven?”

Colours have their own wavelengths. When this is converted via our retina into an impulse that is transmitted to the visual cortex of the brain, it causes a strong reaction. You can call it an emotional reaction of which we are not aware that the colour is the perpetrator. Although there are several aspects that affect this emotional response, we can also define a number of generalities. For example, blue is perceived as peaceful, and it is associated with confidence. Green also has a relaxing effect (probably because our natural environment used to be evergreen forest), but is also associated with prosperity. Red is a colour with a high energy. In nature it stands for danger, which adds a sense of urgency in our brain (we should be ready to fight after all of the flights). Each colour has its own psychological effect. Kiss Metrics has made a nice infographic in which the effect of many colours is described.

Associations from context

What makes the the topic “colour” difficult in neuromarketing is that it is not easy to investigate what proportion of the reaction to colour is ingrained in our system, and which portion is learned. The most popular theory is that the basic reaction, the emotional response, to the wavelength of the colour is the same for virtually every human being. However, the association that follows is bound to be learned principles we acquired from our culture, and from the time in which we live. Also, we must not underestimate the context of in which the colour is being used.

The context in which we put a colour has major implications for our final response. The colours orange and yellow for example, are high on the list of ‘least favourite‘ colours. Again made by Kiss Metrics. The rational response of the people surveyed in another study was that these colours look cheap. This can have various consequences for practical application.

When used in a shop interior you probably want people to feel comfortable (so they linger longer in the store), and therefore you had better not use yellow. Unless of course you want to communicate that you have reasonably priced products (Hello Jumbo!), which mainly works for supermarkets as the client ‘has’ to do his grocery shopping anyway. Besides this rational perception of yellow, there is no denying that its wavelength attracts attention, consciously or unconsciously. So if it is your intention to attract the attention with an advertisement, it can also be useful to use this color.

Make sure in this case you get your message across clearly and quickly before the first instinctive reaction to the colour disappears, and the potential customer realizes that he doesn’t like to look at yellow. Here is another brief example of rational association that I experienced myself while writing this article. The infographic on colour shows that no-one (of the interviewed subjects) indicated that they had purple as their favorite color.

“Paars = punk?”

I discussed this with a friend and told him “Of course. In today’s society, men don’t want to be associated with such a feminine colour.” To which he replied: “Why female? Purple is still punk ?! ” This shows how different people may have a different association that will affect their eventual reaction when they see the color.

No clue at all

s there any law that we can apply flawlessly? Unfortunately there is no magic colour for our buy-button. The effective use of colour is largely dependent on context and personal and/or cultural background. However, there is one basic principle which is certainly important: contrast. Although the nature of the response to colour depends on several factors, research has shown that a higher intensity of colour-energy brings about a greater response. This intensity we can increase by creating contrast.

For graphic design, this means that the call-to-action or key buttons have to have a contrasting colour with respect to the background, and the rest of the design. Complementary Colours therefore work the strongest, but there are many ways in order to create colour contrast. Ultimately, it is the combination of instinct and contemporary culture that determines which colours give which responses, and thus which application within marketing will be successful. So keep an eye on trends and developments, test it against the known associations and instincts, finish it with a bit of contrast: and who knows, there is still a formula for success to discover.

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