Stimulating Action With Color

There is growing scientific evidence of how the brain processes color and how color impacts our feelings and how we respond. Over the years, some direct marketers have wondered about color’s contribution to the overall success of direct mail. However, color usually isn’t high on the list of test priorities. But you don’t have to go with your gut, considering what research

There is growing scientific evidence of how the brain processes color and how color impacts our feelings and how we respond. Over the years, some direct marketers have wondered about color’s contribution to the overall success of direct mail. However, color usually isn’t high on the list of test priorities. And unless you have great flexibility to test colors, most direct marketers simply go with the colors they feel will work best. But you don’t have to go with your gut, considering what research is telling us.

Today I’ll share with you recent research from university studies, along with The Theory of Colours by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1810.

Goethe published one of the first color wheels and shared psychological impact. His theories are still widely used:

  • Red conveys gravity and dignity.
  • Yellow connotes brightness and soft excitement, yet noble.
  • Blue is at odds with itself, being both exciting and retreating.
  • Green is reassuring.

So how do these 200-year-old conclusions stack up against recent research that expands into more colors? A 2014 study of logos by the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests additional consideration:

  • Blue logos invoked feelings of confidence, success and reliability.
  • Green logos invoked perceptions of environmental friendliness, toughness, durability, masculinity and sustainability.
  • Purple logos invoked femininity, glamor and charm.
  • Pink logos gave the perception of youth, imagination and fashion.
  • Yellow logos invoked perceptions of fun and modernity.
  • Red logos brought feelings of expertise and self-assurance.

Other recent studies from the University of British Columbia in 2009 and Dartmouth College in 2011 make these observations:

  • People have emotional responses to color, and linking color responses to our brain’s neural processes. The brain is most triggered by red, then green, then blue.
  • Red can make people’s work more accurate. Blue can make people more creative.
  • People tested with red, blue or neutral backgrounds on computer screens found red to be more effective for recall and attention to detail. Blue was better for creating imagination.
  • If you seek “avoidance” action (for example, toothpaste for cavity prevention), studies show red to have greater appeal. Conversely, if you seek “positive” action (for example, “tooth whitening”) then blue holds more appeal.
  • Across cultures, red represents “no.” It’s a common emotional association that is innate. A study involving monkeys (who don’t process the meaning of a red stop sign) found that the animals avoided humans who wore red.
  • Red is also credited with helping people focus.
  • Red is a color of stimulation.
  • Blue is more relaxing and calming.

Remember, though, when considering colors: You must consider context. The visual impact of words or images in isolated environments can be different than when you are trying to connect a user to a brand, website or direct mail package.

Bottom line: As you prepare your next direct mail package, print ad, website, landing pages or video background, consider your environment and desired reaction from your prospective customers. Use colors that can stimulate, then calm, your prospective customer’s minds.

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Stimulating Action With Color”

  1. You make some excellent points here! Increasingly, we’ve seen that it’s imperative for printed pieces to be interactive and cutting-edge in order to increase the connection between the brand and the consumer. But sometimes, all it takes is the perfect color combination. We are human, and simply put, print makes emotional connections and memorable impressions in this fast-paced, “always-on” world. So, partner color and good design with print to make an emotional connection with your end-user.

    – Beth Ann Kilberg-Walsh, Vice President, Marketing Communications & Customer Engagement, Xerox

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