Color’s Impact in Marketing
Article by Vince DiCecco - Sign & Digital Graphics Magazine
The popular TV show “Orange is the New Black” got me thinking. What other magazine readership could better appreciate the topic of the impact colors have on a sign shop owner’s marketing efforts than Sign and Digital Graphics’? So then, why did it take this columnist so long to tackle the subject?
The psychology of color as it relates to persuasion is one of the most interesting—and most controversial—aspects of marketing. Why? Because most of the debate about the choice of colors in collateral marketing materials and its influence on shoppers’ buying decisions are wrought with hunches, anecdotal evidence and ad agency executives blowing smoke about “color's effect on the mind.”
Then, why does color psychology invoke so much controversy, yet is not backed with adequate and meaningful data and research? It’s probably because factors such as gender and generation, personal preference, life experiences and upbringing, cultural differences, context, etc., often muddy the effect individual colors have on us. So, the suggestion that specific colors, such as yellow or purple, are able to evoke some sort of uber-specific emotion is about as accurate as fortune cookie predictions or your daily horoscope reading.
But, don’t abandon ship just yet. It may be worth the time to take a look at some research-backed insights on how colors do play a role in marketing. The impact of our color choices on our websites, on our signage, stationery and packaging, in our retail store or shop, in our marketing, or even our business clothing says something about who we are and what we are about. So, put on your curiosity cap, but feel free to “color” outside of the lines, if some of the research doesn’t quite match up with your beliefs.
Why is Facebook blue?
According to The New Yorker magazine, the reason is simple. It’s because Mark Zuckerberg is red-green color blind; blue is the color he can see the best. Not very scientific, right? That may be the case for Facebook, but there are some interesting examples of how colors actually affect our purchasing decisions. After all, sight is the strongest developed sense in most human beings. It’s only natural that a large number—nearly 90 percent (according to one study)—of people who make snap judgments to try out a product choose to do so by color alone.
A single image delivers a lot of information in a very short time because we perceive an image all at once, whereas reading or hearing often takes significantly longer to process the same information. Brands and logos communicate meanings with the language of color and shape. As the overused cliché says, "A picture is worth a thousand words." In fact, color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent, according to a University of Loyola, Maryland study.
There are natural—or universal—associations evoked by shapes and colors that are common to all of us. For example, a horizontal line is stable and a diagonal line is dynamic. Red is hot and full of fire, blue is cool and watery. And, both can be intangible like a flame or the sky. In fact, our minds are programmed to respond to color. For example, we stop our cars for red lights and go on green.
Brands and their personality
Psychologist and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker has conducted studies on this very topic in her research titled Dimensions of Brand Personality. Her studies have found five core dimensions that play a role in a brand’s personality: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness.
Brands can sometimes cross between two traits, but they are mostly dominated by only one. For example, high fashion clothing feels sophisticated, camping gear feels rugged, and so on. Several adjectives help illustrate the core dimensions. See Image 1 below.
Certain colors do broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement). But most academic studies on colors and branding indicate that it’s far more important for your brand’s colors to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical color associations.
Without this context, choosing one color over another doesn't make much sense, Further, there is very little evidence to support that, say, 'orange' will universally make people purchase a product more often than 'silver'—or any other two color comparison for that matter.
Color Preferences by Gender
Perceived appropriateness may explain why the most popular vehicle colors are white, black, silver and gray, but is there something else at work that explains why there aren’t very many purple power tools?
From the day babies are brought home and wrapped in their pink or blue blankets, implications are made about gender and color. While there are no concrete rules about what colors are exclusively feminine or masculine, there have been studies conducted over the past several decades that draw some generalizations. In his 2003 Colour Assignments study, market researcher Joe Hallock’s data showcases some clear preferences in certain colors across gender.
When the study participants were asked for their favorite color, the results are below. See Image 2.
Hallock then polled survey takers for their least favorite color and the distribution of responses was more varied.
The most notable points in the study are the supremacy of blue across both genders—it was the favorite color for both groups—and the disparity between groups on purple. Women list purple as a top-tier color, but not a single man listed purple as a favorite color.
Additional research in studies on color perception and preferences show that when it comes to shades, tints and hues, men seem to prefer bold colors while women prefer softer colors. Also, men were more likely to select shades of colors as their favorites (colors with black added), whereas women were more receptive to tints of colors (colors with white added).
Although different colors can be perceived in different ways, the names of those colors matter, as well. According to several studies, when focus group participants were asked to evaluate products with different color names, “fancy” names were preferred far more often. For example, mocha was found to be significantly more likeable than brown—despite the fact that the researchers showed subjects the same color.
While color and marketing do go hand-in-hand, the particular color in any marketing piece—from logos and website design to printed materials to product packaging—can send either an appealing or negative subconscious message, depending on who, where and when someone sees it. While color may not be the most important ingredient in your marketing, it is usually the first thing that people notice and about which draw an opinion. Don’t underestimate the power of that first impression.
Australian social scientist Judy Scott-Kemmis wrote the book, The Colour of Sex, to explain the link between colors, intimate relationships and behavior. If you believe, as I do, that the second most intimate relationship one can have—second only to the bond between two lovers or best friends—is the one between a business person and a loyal, favorite customer, then Scott-Kemmis’s color meanings in business are worth considering.
A summary of her findings is below. See Image 3.
Although the colors you use in your marketing campaign may be the component that will initially grab the attention of your buyer, there is no such thing as a wrong or right color—just colors that are more appropriate for the message you wish to impart. Be sure to choose the ones for your color and marketing program that will get you the response you are looking for. Good luck!