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The Impact of Color in Advertising, Marketing, and Design

Paula Kaminska | October 14, 2014 | blur Group

It turns out that color is one of the most of exciting things in the world. 

Since the beginning colors have stirred our emotions. White chalk was a precious tool in the hands of paleolithic artists. Gold from the very first civilisations reminded us of the sun. A desire for the mysterious and exotic blue changed the course of history.


Color was definitely grabbing world wide attention, but it certainly wasn’t easy to get hold of. This is why it became the ultimate symbol of luxury. Those who could afford it, used favourite hues to decorate their surroundings. Today, not so long since the beginning of the Digital Revolution, we have free access to any colour we can possibly think of, and more. But do we really know what the essence of color is? Are we sure there is an exact dictionary definition for it, or is it a bit more abstract than ordinarily defined things?

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Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the best starting point. Whatever color we pick, whether it be grey, blue or red, we won’t be able to describe it. Unless of course, we decide to refer to grey, blue or red objects as a point of reference. This is because there is no elementary characteristic of red or any other color. Redness is just a term that refers to other concepts – an inception of concepts.

How do we perceive color?

The neuronal structure corresponding to the concept of redness is connected to light-sensitive cells in the eyes that are sensitive to the red range of the spectrum. What we perceive through our eyes, is electromagnetic radiation at specific wavelengths. Our neuronal structure is “learned” by various combinations of integrated signals – for example, a combination of the sky with signals derived from “blue” receptors of the eye. Therefore, blue defines all the blue objects in our neuronal network, and they define blue.

Through the course of our life we experience different sets of events with colorful objects. That makes our associations unique and, as a result, each of us understands the concept of blue slightly differently.

Disagreements in the perception of colors depends on origin, age, gender, and even state of health. Vivid and bright colors are popular amongst the youth, while older people feel more comfortable when surrounded by subdued shades. Black is widely known as the color of mourning in Poland. In India, that would be white.

It is not an exaggeration to say that color is the key factor in building a mood. It can stimulate our imagination to express taste, smell, and emotions. Since technology has changed it all, and never before has there been so many colors available, the ability to shape our mood with color is particularly true for a computer screen.

Color as a tool

Color is powerful because it can change our mood – the mood of potential customers. If a website improves our state of mind, our relationship with a brand will deepen and the probability of a return will increase. Advertisers and designers are well aware of that. We are not guided entirely by logic when making purchases. We tend to be driven by less identifiable factors such as emotions. Successful brands like Harley Davidson don’t sell motorcycles, they sell a lifestyle.

Finding the right choice of colors is an art because everyone interprets colors differently. Therefore, the trick is about an entire selection. No color scheme is ideal or universal. There is no best palette for a specific social or cultural group. We have to understand the meaning of colors so that they can support our message. Colorful information affects the decision-making process with a surprising effectiveness.

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The different kinds of colors

Through colors we can control reactions of an audience and provoke them to certain behaviours. The following paragraphs present commonly used colors and describe their impact on users.

Warm bright colors

warm bright colors

Beige, yellow, orange, pink, red and similar. These are active, eye-catching colors with a friendly nature that may induce a sense of courage and energy.

Warm bright colors visually enlarge objects and make them seem closer. Due to their high visibility I advise limiting their use among subdued colors.

Cold bright colors

cold bright colors

Lavender, silver, azure add subtlety, full of aesthetics and freshness, accents.

Such cold but bright tones enhance a sensation of modernity and professionalism if harmoniously combined with gray. It’s a nice composition for businesses, commerce, and service websites especially with health, cosmetic and medicine products.

Cold dark colors

cold dark colors

Violet, blue, turquoise, green, navy give a feeling of stability and quality. These shades are often placed as accompanying colors. Although they don’t attract attention they emphasize the content.

Cold dark colors are widely used on business websites for ambitious and hardworking qualities with a special highlight for government, science, automotive and computer products.

Warm dark colors

warm dark colors

Gold, purple, brown express classics, tradition, luxury and relaxation. They blend well in expensive and elegant designs for young and rich.

Mixed with cold colors give an impression of modernity and novelty. Perfect for brands engaged in finance, consulting, architectonics and craft.

Neutral colors


White, grey and black help to create contrasts and bring all the other colors out. They don’t convey any particular message on their own. Neutrals are here to support their neighbours by playing the role of complementation on websites.

Their use can be truly universal as they work well in a variety of applications. Black can be combined with bright colors and white with dark colors, making a classic, almost universal combination.

How to apply colors

The correlation of colors is key to their impact. Reddish-brown sepia tones refer to past and tradition, navy-blue combinations are associated with dynamism, while black and white in equal amounts give deeper expression to each other.

The simplest set of colors expresses thoughts without words and influences audiences. The choice of these colors should reflect the brand mission with strength and clarity, so that it can attract prospective customers.

Again, there are no ideal sets of colors. Some are more common, some less so. Warm colors impact users to take action, whilst cold shades have a cooling effect. Red spot on a light background is expressive, while placed on a cold one is almost hot. The stronger the contrast, the more powerful the message. And surprisingly, many successful campaigns have broken colorful rules. Putting together opposing colors influenced their visibility on the market.

The designer’s role is to build clear and understandable communication through the impact of color. The fewer hues used in a composition the easier the whole thing is to remember. Select two to three key colors and your message will sustain easier and longer in the minds of your audience.

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