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.
- 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.