The Power of Color in Marketing

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By Aijing Chen

Last month, Airbnb unveiled its “Outside, In” house in London, offering an overnight breakaway from the concrete jungle into an intimate connection with nature. Boasting flora and fauna elements with a fresh, vibrant green interior, the house is designed in partnership with Pantone to showcase “15-0343 Greenery,” the newly-released Color of the Year 2017. According to James McClure, general manager of Northern Europe for Airbnb, Greenery, “a color that symbolizes new beginnings, growth, and vitality,” serves as a perfect match for Airbnb to extend its customer experience of travel and community.


It is not a coincidence that Airbnb recognizes the science of color in influencing consumer behaviors and plays with that notion by creating this Greenery house. Nor is it an exception. Companies such as Apple, Starbucks, or Heinz have experimented with colors for their brands and products to initiate communications with consumers. In fact, the topic of color studies has been covered by modern psychology to discern the influence color exerts on human behavior. Basically, color refers to the quality that is produced through reflection or emission by a limited range of visible light that strikes our eyes. The wavelengths of light in the retina are then transformed into electrical impulses that travel to the hypothalamus where hormones affect the fluctuation in our emotions and relevant behaviors.


So why does color, the most basic, omnipresent but powerful visual quality of objects, work for marketing and branding? In the realm of marketing, color is often applied purposefully to deliver intended messages, stimulate consumer responses and generate brand recognition. Take a look at some key takeaways from various studies that indicate why colors are important in helping marketers grab attention:

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To stand out in the modern marketing environment, where excessive content distribution and shrinking consumer attention spans collide, color is key. But how to use the right color in the right way? It’s a sophisticated process. The application of color psychology, especially in interpreting what color means to different people, could be controversial and confusing due to its subjectivity. There are, however, some general tips about how you can manipulate color in marketing and use it as a powerful persuasive tool.


1. Know the Basic Color Models

Booklets of basic color theories are everywhere, and elementary school art classes teach the traditional color wheel (below) that regards red, yellow and blue as the primary colors. The way colors are selected, arranged and combined definitely makes a difference. Noticeably, this type of RYB color model is developed for traditional pigment art and design (such as painting). There are other models such as RGB (red, green and blue) color model for visual display in electronic systems and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) for color printing. For marketers, knowing what color model serves the exact type of media you are using could be especially helpful in delivering the most appealing and effective content to consumers.

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2.  Consider the Context

Beware of those seemingly simple, straightforward color guides in the marketplace that assign certain and specific meanings to colors. They might lead you astray from pitching the right message if you ignore the business context. For example, purple, once the most expensive color to produce, used to symbolize royalty and wealth, conveying a sense of solemnity and respect. It is therefore appropriate and accurate for academic intuitions such as Northwestern University to use the color purple to express its values in “academia, prestige and pride.” However, purple could become an appetite suppressant if not used properly in the catering industry. Color professor J.L. Morton claims that dating back to ancient times when our earliest ancestors were searching for food, colors like blue, purple and black were “warning signs” of potentially poisonous food. Imagine a purple subway packaging or a purple Wholefoods logo, would you still consider their products as fresh and edible?


3.  Understand Your Audience

In order to understand the mindset of your audience and how color works with different segments, it is important to know how color effects might vary cultural, demographic, psychographic or behavioral factors. For instance, color preferences, in general, differ between genders. Women are more likely to notice the variety and subtlety of color than men. Research shows, in terms of shades, tints, and hues, men generally prefer bold colors whereas women prefer softer ones. Furthermore, men are more likely to choose shades of colors as their favorites (colors with black added), while women tend to consider tints of colors (colors with white added) better.

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Likewise, the meanings of color might differ among people from different countries and cultures. For example, red and white, as adopted by both the national flag of Japan and the logo of Japan Airlines, suggest vitality, power and celebration in Japanese culture, whereas in South Africa, red is often related to violence and sacrifices. Delve deeper into the cultural and societal considerations of your target audience and you can more accurately influence them through color selection.


The “First Moment of Truth” is a critical step in the consumer decision journey. The best chance for marketers to convert consumers occurs within three to seven seconds of consumers’ first encounter with a product. This indicates how crucial it is to make a positive and powerful first impression and what little time you must do it in when trying to win over consumers. With color being one of the first things that impacts our impression of products and relevant messages, it goes to show how vital the psychology of color, color theory, and color selection decisions are in building brands and acquiring customers.



Aijing Chen (Ellie) is currently an IMC student at Northwestern University with intended specializations in Content Marketing and Brand Strategy. She completed her graduate study at the School of Foreign Studies, Nanjing University in China and interned for the Digital Team at Weber Shandwick China. Beyond her professional aspirations, she is especially interested in various subjects of art such as graphic design and classical music. LinkedIn


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