Colour Persuasion – The Most Controversial Marketing Ploy – Part 1

Colour Persuasion in Marketing

You’re now probably thinking: ‘what does colour have to do with psychology?’ and on first inspection, you’d be right to. Sure, colour symbolises certain concepts,

  • Green – money, envy, sickness
  • Red – anger, blood, heat
  • Blue – calm, ocean, competency

These are just a few obvious examples, and I don’t doubt you already knew this. However, when you dig a little deeper into the psychology of colours and their effect in marketing, you’ll pull up some interestingly coloured roots.

Colour Persuasion

The psychology of colour is one of the most interesting yet controversial aspects of marketing. Why is this?
As far as research suggests, colour marketing is essentially based on personal preference. Elements such as personal experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, context etc., often blur the effect individual colours have on us.
Think of it this way, the idea that colours have the power to invoke specific emotional relapses is about as accurate as your run-of-the-mill Tarot card reading.

The Research

The first concept to address is branding.
Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to classify consumer responses to different individual colours. Take a look at this colour guide from The Logo Company:

The problem with the ‘research’ is that colour is too dependent on personal experiences, i.e. the westernised consumer market may associate silver with Mac – which hints at neutrality, simplicity, elegance and/or purity.

In The Impact of Colour Marketing (a study) researches discovered that up to 90% of immediate judgements made about products could be based on colour alone – depending on the product.

Colour roles also come into consideration here, in The Interactive Effects of Colours, the study highlights that the colour of a product has to match the product. In other words, the colour has to coincide with the product that is being sold – orange juice cartons pictured with oranges as an example.
Similarly, the study Exciting Red and Competent Blue also confirms that colouring greatly influences consumer purchasing intent. This means that the colours of a product personally influence how the buyers perceive the ‘personality’ of the product.

In essence, who would buy a Bentley if they didn’t think they were posh and sophisticated?

Recognition

Further studies indicate that our brains have been systematically programmed over the years of consumer culture – to opt for recognisable brands, which makes colour arguably the most important design feature of a product. Using a similar colour or design makes you less unique – so if everyone’s logo was red and you used blue, you’re the one that stands out. Elementary in principle, yet incredibly successful in practice.

Picking the ‘right’ colour is important too. A consumer’s relationship with their chosen product must reflect their personality and their way of life (at least to some extent). For example, if people buy Barbie dolls because they’re pretty and feminine, releasing a Barbie that resembled a buff man wielding swords wouldn’t sell that well.
Aaker’s formula below captures the psychology of this theory:

Brand Personality

Consumers also admit that there is a real connection between the colour(s) of a brand and the customers perception of that brand’s ‘personality.’ It’s safe to assume that brown is associated with ruggedness as its the colour of earthy, rusty products whereas colours such as purple/gold are associated with money and wealth, therefore royalty.
However, like we’ve discussed before, colours in marketing fluctuate and deceive more than your ex-girlfriend. Whilst brown may be marketed as a rugged appeal, when placed in another context, it has a completely different meaning, I’m talking about all of those chocolate adverts you’ve seen that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
This is confusing and it may sometimes seem contradictory. No one can offer you clear-cut guidelines on colour marketing, we can only remind you of the importance of the context in colour.
Remember that colours only come into action when they’re needed to match a brand’s personality, i.e., the use of green and blue to communicate recycling company’s love for the Earth.

Gender Colour Preferences

This is a very difficult concept to factually represent.
It’s important to understand that environment (and culture) play huge parts in indicating colour appropriateness for gender. One of the most important and iconic examples of assigning colours to gender appeared in Smithsonian magazine. It talked about how blue become the colour for men and for girls and more interestingly, how it used to be the reverse!
Unsurprisingly, blue reigns supreme within both gender pie charts and purple seemed to divide opinion. Purple has long been the colour to represent royalty, maybe this is why we don’t see purple power tools (as they are largely associated with men!)

Going more specific, research suggests that men prefer bold colours, whilst women prefer softer colours (pastels, for example). Men were also seen to prefer colours with hints of red and black added, where as woman preferred white. Gender colour preference is incredibly important when it comes to choosing your brand’s colour palette.

The Isolation Effect
You will have seen this concept used before, no doubt about that. However, you may not have known that it was being ‘used’ in the first place.
The Isolation Effect is an item/product/symbol that stands out like a sore thumb, so that it’s more likely to be remembered. For example, by having a white background with a large black computer sitting in the centre, coupled with a big red button that says ‘BUY NOW’, you’re likely to react and remember it due to the bold, opposing colours.

Utilising the colour scheme and background of your site can be a major key to your business. Josh from StudioPress highlights how there are three primary colours that form a successful homepage/background.

Background

Base

Accent

Whilst this may feel like this should be a job for an interior designer, there is some pretty important science behind it. The Button Colour Test is a well-known conversion and optimisation analyser, and it has helped hundreds of thousands of companies hit their conversion goals. Porter ran a the colour test on the homepage of Performable’s website, and the results leaned very much in the favour of one particular colour.

The chosen colours were green and red. In the first stage, Porter created the normal homepage with the original green colour in place. He then cloned that page and changed the colour to red. Everything else on the page remained the same, and the idea was that Porter would be able to see any conversion differences within the test results.

Both colours are arguably the most enticing within the colour spectrum, here’s why:

Green

Known for connoting concepts such as nature and the environment, it’s used as a ‘Go’ signal in traffic lights and similar concepts. Green is also embedded in the Performable’s original website design, so the button naturally fitted well with the colour scheme.

Red

Red is typically known to induce excitement, lust, passion and warning. It serves the opposite function to green at traffic lights, and is commonly used for warnings in general.

So, What Were The Predictions?

Porter stated that even if one colour performed better than the other, “the difference would be small.”

The Results

After running the test for two days, they had accumulated over 2,000 visits to the page. For each visit, Peformable recorded whether someone clicked the button or not. The result?

The red button outperformed the green button by 21%
This was a much larger difference than Porter expected this doesn’t necessarily mean the colour red will always outperform green, or any other colour for that matter. The simple fact of the matter is that the green colour blends in with the rest of the site’s surroundings. By having a bold, red call to action symbol, the reader’s attention is immediately directed to the natural anomaly.

Is Colour Marketing Worth Utilising?

Ultimately, the use of colour in marketing and business can be fine-tuned dependent on the consumer’s needs and desires. Although colours may have different cultural associations, smart businesses when designing their products brands will take this into account and utilise the known psychological effects of colour in order to attract customers. Already, many of the big name brands which you use everyday have been studied, tried and tested, all in order to provoke a particular response.