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What Science Tells Us About Color

by Susan Morgan on February 13, 2009

An interesting story in the news this week involves color… specifically red and blue. These colors have just been linked to improved performance of the brain, and an increase in its susceptibility to messages according to some compelling new research. The question of whether color can effect performance and emotions is one that’s fascinated science (not to mention the advertising world) for many years now. And of course dressing for success has always been of interest to people in both their buisness and personal lives.

The story centers on a new study appearing in January’s Science that suggests the nuances of color may well have an effect on those who view them — evoking moods without us being truly aware of it —

which has implications for advertising and promotional efforts… in fact messaging of any kind. The University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers found that red is most effective at enhancing our attention to detail — remembering words and proofreading. Blue is best for highly creative pursuits — tasks that require invention and imagination… thinking outside the box.

The research found that red helps us stay vigilant, watchful for details and instructions. And in fact we learn this from an early age… think about the color of stop signs, traffic lights, fire engines and the like. This striking, can’t-be-missed color is also indelibly associated with a teacher’s corrections to your schoolwork. All you need to do is look around to see how often red is used in cautionary signs, advertising or decor.

Of course red celebrates it’s long association with love by being closely tied to theupcoming romantic holiday. There’s red in the greeting cards, candy boxes, flowers and other decorations… surely not a coincidence. In fact, work out of the University of Rochester that made the news in late October 2008 found that men felt more amorous about a woman wearing red, less so about the same woman wearingblue.

In earlier studies, British researchers uncovered evidence that wearing red helps athletes outperform others on the field. Perhaps a subtle, subconscious signal of dominance, the olympic uniform study showed that athletes wearing red won their matches 60% of the time. Alas… red uniforms didn’t seem to help the Arizona Cardinals during the Super Bowl.

Blue on the other hand brings to mind the sea and sky — open, peaceful and tranquil — a place where we feel safe and able to explore and be creative. This too, is an association that comes to us from an early age… almost without us being aware of it. The subjects in the UBC study displayed much more creativity when in surroundings that featured restful blues. Interestingly, people often associate bluewith better performance, though this may actually be simple color preference — more people report that they like blue over red.

In a happy coincidence to the release of the research… fashion gurus noted that our new President wore only red or blue ties during his first 11 days in office, and in the closely watched, power-packed world of politics these choices are by no means casual. Even though your office might be more dressed down these days, the necktie continues to carry some significance, an accepted part of the uniform of Washington D.C. politicians past and present, one of the only ways for a man to show his own personal style.

One of the most interesting parts of the UBC work to marketers and small business people is the experiments conducted on color sensitivities as they related to packaging and marketing pieces. With a fictional series of ads and packages, the researchers looked at how color impacts the response of subjects. Red backgrounds lent more favorable impressions of products when the “ad” had specific product details. Ads that emphasized things you’d like to avoid also held greater appeal on red backgrounds.

Creative designs, or a focus on positive benefits were more appealing in blue.

Good to know as you choose the colors for your promotional products… your business cards and forms… your logo or signs. A professional designer or experienced logo specialist can help you make color choices that will send just the message your business wants to convey.

And while you’ll probably want to keep to a consistent look for your marketing pieces, using reds to get customers to pay attention to details (prices or phone numbers) and blues to speak to their imagination (product benefits) might just be the simplest, most direct way to convey your important message.

Susan Morgan on sabtwitterSusan Morgan on sabfacebook
Susan Morgan
Creative, passionate and detailed, Susan brings 25-plus years professional writing experience to a variety of projects — get-noticed direct mail pieces, full line print catalogs, eye-catching color brochures and totally original. search engine friendly company blogs, web pages and online articles.

A lifelong love of storytelling has also produced a full-length novel (Out of the Ordinary published by booklocker in 2007). Susan continues to indulge her passion for fiction with a growing number of short stories (one an award winner in 2004, another in 2008) and finalizing a second novel.

In her spare time Susan enjoys gardening, studying astrology and tarot, being with family and friends and keeping up with politics and current events.


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