How Do I Choose the Best Colors for Advertising?

Mal Baxter

Choosing the best colors for advertising is a task that requires balancing originality for your brand and familiarity with customer expectations and emotional responses. Familiarizing yourself with influential design principles of color can help you make a more effective choice. Colors are typically divided into hot and cold varieties, which serve different types of businesses and marketing messages. Your first consideration should be what impression you wish to give your customers and how you would have them feel when they think about your business, product, or service. Then select your color scheme that complements, rather than strays from, your existing or desired business image.

Blues and greens are considered to be some of the most relaxing colors.
Blues and greens are considered to be some of the most relaxing colors.

The best colors for advertising depend on a marketing message and how it ties into brand image. It's good to keep target audience responses in mind as well. Colors have different cultural meanings, and cities everywhere consist of a mix of populations with different cultural backgrounds. Most choices will require at least some compromise, but it's best to avoid any glaring problems that may jar the expected sensibilities of a target audience.

Publications might have different color specifications for advertisements.
Publications might have different color specifications for advertisements.

For more energetic messages, hot colors like orange, red, or yellow may serve. Conversely, cooler colors like shades of blue convey credibility, which suggests security and authority — an attractive choice for numerous corporations. Earth tones like browns and greens may serve more familiar or environmentally conscious marketing messages, such as for residential contexts or informal small businesses. Darker colors often suggest stability and reliability, and may be used for operations like banks and law firms.

Many hue and shade differences have their own psychological and emotional suggestiveness. Choosing the best colors for advertising is a decision that may also be influenced by quality differences between print and digital communications. They may also be affected by reproductions and manipulations to the final medium. Make sure you get a firm understanding of the reproduction processes employed and know what differences, if any, to expect between media.

Colors can conjure an intuitive and immediate reaction from people. This embodies a direct emotional connection with potential customers, so it's important to understand design influences when selecting the best colors for advertising. People may not be aware of the influence of color, but done well, it can add a real sense of credibility to an advertisement or a graphical or visual message.

Matching colors may also provide a unity of design within the context of your brand communications and Web site. People may more readily associate the advertisement as a part of your Web site architecture. In terms of emotional marketing, colors can tie together associations between a product or service and a desirable feeling that generates a purchase impulse.

Consulting with a design professional can help illuminate the best colors for advertising a particular message. Web sites also exist to help designers mix and match complementary hues in creative combinations or palettes. Choices of color can make the difference between whether a target customer perceives your business as a small, friendly local enterprise or as a midsized or larger company. When uncertain about the best colors for advertising, research other businesses in the same field to get some general ideas of the types of colors that your target customers may respond to or expect. You may discover that certain types of businesses often use similar patterns of color, in hot or cool shades, to send a congruent message to customers.

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Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- good point. Let's say everyone in your town switches to green and blue logos and signs. It seems like all of those would run together and become almost invisible to passing motorists.

In that scenario, the business that went against the grain and tossed up a sign based on different colors such as red and maroon might be in a good position to stand out from the competition and get noticed.


In my area, everyone has gone just plain daffy over blues and greens. There was a Realtor who changed all of his signs from maroon to blue and I asked him why he did that. He said that research shows that blue is the most warm and inviting color, so that is what he has used. Meanwhile, an area bank changed from a predominantly red logo to one that is light green for the same reasons.

One has to wonder if blue and green signs showing up all over the place is a good idea.

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