Note: Another long arc now as a single post. Thank you, thank you, thank you, wee mice…
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing
I was recently interviewed by AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund on NextStage’s five year study of the best uses of colors, color imagery and color iconography in marketing. The study includes NextStage original research and research from other sources. This post starts the arc with Chris Bjorklund’s first question; “Can you tell me a little about the history of the use of color in marketing? How far back does it go?”
The posts in this arc provide content that didn’t make it into the podcast, just as the podcast has content that isn’t provided in this arc. You can hear the entire podcast at The Best Way to Use Color and Imagery to Improve Your Marketing. An extensive bibliography will be shared in the last post in this arc. Chris’ questions are in normal font, my responses are in italics.
Wow. We’re starting with the tough ones right off the bat, huh? My opinion is that the use of color in marketing goes back…oh, I’m guessing about 4.5 billion years, and I’m very serious. I think photo-receptor cells first developed about that long ago. Basically once animals could detect mates, predators and prey visually, the use of color in marketing was established.
(I’m guessing your listeners are thinking, “Good grief, another NextStage rant” and maybe so, but knowing something’s history can often provide useful clues about better ways to use it)
Anyway, marketing’s evolutionary predecessor is “survival of the fittest”, what’s known as evolutionary biology. The baboon’s inflamed rump, the peacock’s plumage, moths that look like tree bark, walking sticks, spiders that look like flower petals, flowers that use colors to attract pollinators, and octopi and squid that change color to match the sea floor are all examples of marketing. We might think of the marketing messages as “I’m a good mate” or whatever but the real marketing message of the baboon and peacock is “I can help you be successful”. Isn’t that what marketing is all about? Predators that mimic the environment, such as the spider and mollusks, are basically sending out spam, “Hey, trust me. I’m safe”. Flowers that use color to attract pollinators are involved in a word-of-mouth campaign. The viral component is “Hey, this flower has some good eats” and the benefit to the flower is survival and capturing more territory. Show me a company engaged in a word-of-mouth campaign with the ultimate goal is NOT surviving and capturing more territory and I’ll change my opinion on this.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Part 2
So color marketings origins has an evolutionary basis.
Once you get a lock on that you extend the metaphor to human society and human systems – cultures, man-made environments, etc. As soon as humans figured out how to create and use pigments, color advertising was in bloom. Prior to that color marketing relied on using flowers and animal hides in our hair, on our loin clothes, whatever.
Our ancestors saw their animal cousins using colors to attract mates, warn off enemies, establish community and territory and said, “Hey, I like that!” and the genie was out of the bottle.
Certain colors were reserved for royalty because they were expensive to produce. Okay. You wear those colors, you’re advertising that you’re a member of the royalty, then the aristocracy, then upper-income America. Other colors became the property of the wise-ones because they represented the Animal Powers. Again, these colors went from wise-ones to wisdom-keepers and here an interesting thing happens; the wise-ones and wisdom-keepers split into two often competing roles in history; religion and science. These roles were combined in a single individual until recently. Their choices of colors to represent their callings still show this to some degree.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Part 3
What we recognize as commerce – the exchange of goods and services – goes back to at least 10,000 BCE (as mentioned in The First Sale (is the Next Page). Town markets encouraged the use of color in marketing and advertising. The trade- or crafts-person who could attract the most people to their tent or wagon had the most customers, regardless of the worthiness of their product or service. How do you attract the most customers? One way is big signs with pretty pictures.
Colors and pictures have incredible importance in marketing to all cultures and specifically cultures and societies without written text. How do I let you know I’m a dentist if you can’t read “D E N T I S T” in my title? A big picture of a tooth outside my office.
Let’s add some color to this one example so listeners can begin to get an idea of just how important and subtle color usage can be. Think about that big picture of a tooth outside an office. Split that sign in half. Place a tooth image in the upper left, make the tooth just off-white and show a black spot, a cavity, in the upper right of the tooth. Have red, blue, green and gold arcs over the cavity in that order, red closest to the cavity and gold furthest away and larger than the other color arcs.
Down in the bottom right have a bright, white, shiny tooth, no cavities, gold aura all around it.
That sign tells a story anybody with a toothache will respond to. It makes use of color, color imagery, color iconography, image placement, emotional cueing, everything’s right there for people who want to market something.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Finale
Now let’s up the timeline to Gutenberg, printing, color printing, tv, color tv, movies and finally color cinema.
Color is so essential, so culture specific, so industry specific, so gender and age specific that Asian color palettes won’t sell American products and vice versa, Nigerian color palettes won’t sell Scandanavian products and vice versa, male color palettes won’t sell to women, over-50yo color palettes won’t sell to teenagers, …
But everything goes back to finding mates, watching for predators and evaluating prey. One of the most interesting ways this fell out (for us) was recognizing the presence of what’s called “koinophilia” – what you can think of as “survival of the prettiest” in marketing. We can identify what models and what coloring to use on those models if you want to sell something now versus in the future and to which gender. It’s remarkable stuff, really.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q2: What Colors Attract Attention? Part 1
I don’t think it’s a strain so much as it’s an inability to expand beyond their own paradigm.
For example, you mention that people know what colors they favor, what attract their attention but most people don’t know why. I accept that this is true for the lay person and have difficulty believing it’s a challenge for marketers and advertisers who are willing to do their homework. There’s a lot of material available on the subject. We were stunned at how much research there’s been. We cited 95 separate papers in our research and we’ll probably add more before we finish writing it up.
Favorite colors and attraction colors all have neuro-, socio- and psycho-linguistic reasons for being what they are. I wrote in Usability Studies 101: Follow the Eye, an IMediaConnection column, that listed the six colors everyone recognizes regardless of culture, language, age, gender, … . These colors are the ones the brain is hardwired for. Once you get beyond that you’re into the areas of culture, language, nature v nurture and more.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q2: What Colors Attract Attention? Part 2
These six colors — black, white, red, yellow, green and blue – are “attention” colors. Now remember that “Attention” isn’t the same as “Attraction”. I probably have your attention if you’re attracted to me but I can also have your attention for lots of other reasons; I’m giving you a warning, you’re watching where I’m putting your birthday present, I’m driving like a lunatic and you want to get out of my way. Recognition and response to colors and color iconography deals with something called “signal detection theory” and the size of a recognized and responded to “attention” signal can much, much smaller than the signal size of a recognized and responded to “attraction” signal.
As I wrote in wrote in Usability Studies 101: Follow the Eye,
- These six easily recognized and understood colors are around or at least leading to your decision points
- Important information is highlighted by these colors
- These colors lead the eye where you want it to go
That’s the basic and applies to all cultures, to all ages and genders. Beyond that you need some training that’s available but that most people don’t know how to find. I mentioned in my Emetrics presentation, Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing: An eMetrics Summit Case Study, that there are classes available at the college level. NextStage also offers training on these topics. One challenge with learning this stuff is that people who need the information “right now” will do a web search or listen to a webinar. That will provide basics but to get enough to be productive you need at least 1-2 days of intensive training followed by ongoing updates of what’s changing, why, and how to respond to it. This gives you the cultural and demographic basis to increase business.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q3: Big, Costly Mistakes? Part 1
Companies spend millions of dollars developing their brands and logos and the colors to go with them. Have you seen some examples of big and costly mistakes?
Yes, interestingly enough one of our researchers found an online list of products that didn’t make it for a variety of reasons (Stonewall’s Findings: Tech Naming Failures). What often happens is that marketing decides something “will ship and will be a success” and doesn’t do enough homework to figure out if the market really exists for the product or not. The Segway, for example. It didn’t matter what color you painted it, nobody was going to simply go out and get one. The Apple Newton is another example. Products must fill a need, either real or imagined, in the consumer’s mind. Great examples come from the automotive world.
The Jummer, for example, is what I’ve heard people call the Jeep Commander because it’s a Jeep that looks like the Hummer so as to capture that market. GM’s problem was that they got rid of one of the most popular and reliable products on the road, the Jeep Cherokee Sport, replaced it with the Jeep Liberty, pushed it at the Cherokee audience which thought the Liberty was a joke and have been coming out with different models playing catch up ever since. The latest is the Patriot and it pretty much looks like what a Cherokee Sport would look like if automotive evolution had been allowed to fulfill its course.
Again, marketing, the use of color and color iconography has models in evolution and biology. Here we’re seeing animals that evolve to fill a biological niche, only the animal that’s evolving is a GM product to fill the niche created by the extinction of the Cherokee.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q3: Big, Costly Mistakes? Part 2
Companies need to remember that filling a niche is one thing, making something appealing in that niche is marketing. That’s where color comes in. High price cars will only show up in ads in royal and authoritative colors. I’m sure people have seen expensive cars on the road that are these bizarre, unnameable colors. The response is “Who thought that was a good color for that car?”
But the funny thing is, chartreuse wouldn’t work on a BMW 7 series and it will work on a Toyota Matrix because of the differences in the target market.
I’ll offer a general rule of thumb; bright and shiny works for younger audiences in all things. It works for older audiences re-experiencing their youth. Somebody my age buying a Corvette or Lotus Elan wants to be seen. A royal or authoritative color ain’t gonna do it. Whatever you’re selling, cars or toothpaste, you need to remember that all colors make a statement. You need to know what that statement is to your audience. I wrote about this in Intelligent Website Design: Expand Your Market and it’s something NextStage really emphasizes; know your audience better than you know yourself.
Part of that knowledge involves color choice. Most people can’t tell you their partner’s favorite color yet if you just look at their wardrobe you’d know it in a second. Want to know your target demographic’s favorite colors? Go walk among them for half a day. The whole key is observation, ideally what’s called “participant observation” and precious few people are trained to do it properly. Doing it properly means getting yourself out of the way of what you’re observing. Unless you do that you’re only documenting your own prejudices, not what you need to document. NextStage teaches classes on documenting observations properly and putting prejudices aside.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q4: B&M to Online and Back?
A big challenge today for companies of all sizes is how to move their brands from brick and mortar to online and vice versa. You’re spending a lot of time studying this issue – you’re on the cutting edge with your analysis. Let us in on some of your findings.
Good question. I’ll give you four things that fall right off the top:
- Only brick&mortar brands long established within a given demographic should consider transferring their brand directly online
- Long established b&m brands transferred to e-brands are more easily recognized by older demographic groups
- It is possible to make a b&m brand more recognizable online by subtly changing its color scheme
- Changing a b&m brand’s visual orientation can increase e-brand recognition and may also produce a negative feeling towards the brand
There’s quite a few more and I’m sharing these because they’re pretty obvious when you remember that “age” usually equates to “experience”.
#1 and #2) “Long established b&m’s can put their existing brand directly online” and “are more easily recognized by older demographics” because their audience has already had lots of experience with it simply because the brand is long established. In other words, the audience will look for what it already knows, thus “age” = “experience”.
#3 and #4) The human brain is wired to look for and find patterns. This is something I wrote about in AllBusiness.com’s Want to Increase Business Traffic? Play This Game to Learn a Design Trick
Familiar patterns – the layout of your living room, the newspaper showing up at 4pm everyday – let us know our world is safe and can be anticipated. You don’t really notice the layout of the living room or that the paper hasn’t arrived until the pattern changes.
It’s the same thing with transferring and existing b&m brand online. A subtle change in a b&m’s color scheme or visual orientation online sends the brain two contradictory messages; a) this is the familiar so it’s safe and b) this is different so pay attention. Good marketing exists where those two messages intersect; this is safe and pay attention. You don’t want to dramatically alter the color scheme or visual orientation because then the “pay attention” message overpowers the “this is safe” message and you have loyal consumers no longer comfortable with the new brand and unwilling to accept the new brand identity.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q5: Offline to Online Worries
Unfortunately the opposite is true and falls out from your previous questions. Lesser known brands – b&m or otherwise – have fewer problems going online (as far as color and color iconography in marketing are concerned) simply because people don’t have enough history and familiarity with them. They can make bold moves and just state “this b&m brand equals this online brand” because they’re basically providing the consumer with new information.
A good example of this is any regional company that goes national or international via the web. Their locally recognized b&m brand isn’t recognized elsewhere so they can go with a redesign, a rebrand, whatever. I was asked these very questions by a major home supply chain and documented my answers in How does one rebuild or redevelop his brand? What are the steps?
Anyway, the world is wide open to the lesser known brand going online. That’s not the case for the well known brand going online for the reasons I mentioned previously. You need to create marketing material that says “Hi, remember me? I’m your old friend and you need to pay attention to this.” Sometimes a direct approach like that can work well, other times not. It depends on gender and age to a large degree.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q6: Gender Differences
Men and women see the world differently – react to colors differently and color imagery differently. What have you learned about that with regard to e-branding? (eye-mind-brain systems are so different…..)
I’ve learned that this question can get me into lots of trouble when I’m speaking at conferences. We discovered in our five year study – and we’re continuing with this research, by the way – that women are universally better at identifying b&m brands online than men are. There are anthropologic and neurologic reasons for this and I can really bore you to death with it if we have time.
The nutshell for marketers is that women can tolerate greater variation in offline and online brands than men can. I’ll ask right now that your listeners and everybody else forgive what is going to come across as a chauvinistic statement; women see a b&m brand modified for online and are basically being asked by an old friend, “does this dress make me look fat?”
Now the other half of the audience can despise me; men see a b&m brand modified for online and ask their old friend, “what happened to you, buddy?”
These two responses are so different and speak at such a high level to gender marketing differences. Women are being asked by their friend if their friend is still acceptable. Men are questioning if the old relationship still exists. The difference is “I need your help” versus “You’re different. Can I still trust you?”
The best thing to do when transferring a male-oriented b&m to online is to make as few changes to the brand/logo as possible. You can go nuts with the rest of the page because once men realize it’s their same old friend they’ll get in the car and go for a ride with them. Altered brands/logos can stop the male audience from even getting in the car.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q7: Examples, Part 1
Analyze a few websites here for what works and what doesn’t…
Let’s look at FlyTed.com. Today, as I call up the homepage, everything about this page is good except the border color. I’m not even sure what the color is. This goes back to the six colors everybody can see thing. I’m pretty sure the design goal was to create contrast that would drive the eyes to the central content. What can happen is that the border is so distracting that it drives people away at a non-conscious level. I wrote about the 3 second rule in Websites: You’ve Only Got 3 Seconds and it applies here. The border color can drive business away before it even occurs.
Contrast FlyTed with the Apple (note to readers: this wasn’t the actual site I was commenting on in the interview. Apple had their “iPhone” homepage up during the interview. What is shown here is very close as far as color, imagery and iconography is concerned) and Jitterbug sites. These sites are so beautifully done for their respective audiences they need to win awards.
Apple’s color scheme and images communicate “come into the mystery” and that’s exactly the message iPhoners want at a non-conscious level. They want to know they’re part of an ultra-group that not everyone can enter (due to cost, availability, etc). There’s not much text. Either you get it or you don’t, a kind of “If you need to know the price you can’t afford it” mentality.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q7: Examples, Part 2
Jitterbug boldly and directly shows you its products. The menu system is like the product, simple. The text is simple. The options are simple. The best thing about it is the use of color and contrast in showing off the two products. Your eye may scan the page but it will end on those products. You know within seconds that you’ve found what you’re looking for. This is excellent use of color to drive eyes where you want them. Unlike Apple’s “enter the mystery” color scheme, this audience doesn’t want mystery, they want obvious. The whole page is designed with that audience in mind and is a wonderful demonstration of color and color iconography done correctly.
(note to readers: this wasn’t the actual site I was commenting on in the interview. Apple had their “iPhone” homepage up during the interview. What is shown here is very close as far as color, imagery and iconography is concerned)
I was recently on vacation. That’s another way of saying I got to do research differently. In the course of a week I must have seen 2-3k people. Nobody my age had an iPhone. People who did have an iPhone fit a younger, more upscale, tech-savvy demographic exactly. One of the first projects I got involved with upon my return was analyzing audience responses to presidential candidates at rallies. Again, iPhoners at these rallies fit a demographic perfectly. The rest of us might not have been Jitterbugging but I think lots of us wanted to.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q8: Image Tricks
Some companies play with product/logo orientation in ads in print and on the web. What is the point of that? Can you explain the work you’re doing with looking at image rotation? How is this used to freshen a brand?
The web used to show static content (meaning text and images) and that’s changing. 30-40% of Americans are still on dialup and even so, static content doesn’t play in marketing much anymore because of the “big signs, bright colors” thing. The problem with Rich Media, RIA, Web 2.0 and the rest is their cost. Companies that have these elements as part of their strategy need to realize that the audience that accepts this type of content also tires of it quickly. One trick that can be successfully used is to imply dynamism with an image by rotating it, using perspective, haloing, content gestalt. These are things painting’s Old Masters knew well and they apply directly to web based marketing. Tilt the picture of a car slightly and the car must be moving either up or down hill. That’s the way our brain translates the image.
That’s another lesson that has a long history behind it and you can see it in any home. Go into someone’s house and, when they’re out of the room for a minute, slightly tilt a few of the pictures hanging on the walls. Not enough to fall, just a little. People will re-enter the room, demonstrate confusion, lock onto the offending image and right it. Obviously the picture wasn’t falling, it was still on the wall. But the slight tilt implied motion, action, and that needed to be stopped.
On the web, though, it gives the illusion of dynamism. A little trick of the mind-eye-brain system that can be exploited well for smaller companies wanting to make an impact.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q9: Colors Showing Value
What specifically can companies do to not only get a brand recognized, but also accepted as having value? Who does a good job at this?
What we found was that red, yellow, white and black will cause site visitors to stop scanning and focus, especially when those colors are in contrast with the brand’s colors.
The goal is to use these “attention” colors to draw attention to what you want visitors to focus on. In a way this might have been what FlyTed was going after, that combined with a halo effect. I don’t think they did it well or correctly, though. On the other hand, Apple and Jitterbug do it beautifully.
AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q10: Jogging Memory with Color
Is there a difference between the colors you might use to get a consumer to remember a brand accurately versus for a longer period of time?
Here’s another example of something simple coming out of the research. The use of sharp or “hard” colors increase the ability to remember an image accurately, the use of “soft” colors such as white, blues, grays and greens increase the ability to remember an image longer.
Here’s how to take this and apply it directly. Let’s say your product path is three pages long or three screen lengths long, meaning a single webpage that needs to be scrolled to get to the action item. The first product image is on the left and in sharp colors, the next image is on the left and is hard, on the right, same screen, is the image using soft colors. The last image is also on the right and uses soft colors.
What needs to be remembered is that you can’t have these three visual elements in sight of each other. They either have to be scrolled into and away from each other or on different pages to have the correct impact.
Posted in 0708, Age, Branding, Color, Communications, Consumer, Cultural, Design, Gender, Historical Posts, Marketing, Neuroscience, Psychooptics, Research, RIA, Rich Media, Strategies, Strategy, Usability, Visual Cognition, Web, Web 2.0
Tagged Attention, From Aug '07, History