Select Page

Color in the Marketplace

Color can be more effective than words.

About Advertising

There is no question that color is a powerful communication tool that can be used most eloquently in advertising. Color informs, bringing instant comprehension, calling attention, delivering information, creating an identity and explaining the characteristics of a product (or service). Above all, colors evoke emotions and these emotions must somehow connect with the essence of the product in the advertisement.

Color can be, and often is, more effective than words. If you view that last sentence somewhat skeptically, think of an advertisement on the web for a product that emanates from another country (not uncommon in this globally-connected world). You might not be able to understand the verbiage, yet the colors can tell a compelling story about what the product promises to deliver.

Viewers of an advertisement might doubt the veracity of the verbiage, but they have no reason to doubt the suggestions that the colors are making as they work on a more subtle, often subconscious level. So the powers of colorful persuasion are often subliminal and the would-be buyer, viewer or customer is not always aware they are being persuaded to buy.

Color can not only move people on an emotional level, but it is also a “moving element” that can stimulate an action or reaction, causing people to move in a desired direction.

Color can also emphasize the most important features in an ad, leading the eye along a pathway that connects all of the visual elements (including the words) that define the message. There is a need to be very thoughtful in the choice of colors because each family contains its own unique messages. The choice of an inappropriate color (or colors) can invite disaster in the marketplace.

Whether on a web page, in a sleek and elegant magazine, a giant billboard or the simplest bullet point highlights on a flyer, color should serve a better purpose than simply embellishing the ad. It should become a part of a well-integrated design process and, as the world is seen in color and not in black and white, color in an ad somehow seems more realistic, inviting the viewer to participate.

Studies have shown that color in ads can generate up to 50% more inquiries than ads in black and white. It is fairly obvious that color, when surrounded by black and white print, would be more outstanding. This does not prove that black and white should never be used—it is a matter of context and contrast. In a magazine, catalog, mailer or website filled with many colors, black and white can offer a bold option.

There is no question that color is the ultimate manipulative tool, so essential in advertising appeal. Although this manipulation can be thought of as negative, there are other, more positive meanings, literally, “to control or influence somebody in an ingenious way”. Ingenious is further defined as “possessing cleverness and imagination” or “clever, original and effective”. In the end, the advertising objective is always the same—to sell the product or service. And that is precisely what color—used cleverly, imaginatively and effectively—will accomplish.

With permission by author, Leatrice Eiseman, the article above is excerpted from Color Messages and Meanings, a Pantone Color Resource. Visit Lee’s website at