Understanding How Colors Affect Your Advertising

Understanding How Colors Affect Your Advertising


The color wheel is more than just an art tool, it’s an essential part of your display and digital advertising efforts. Understanding basic color theory is imperative. From there, contrast and color combinations can be game changers in drawing a viewer’s eye to critical information and calls to action you create.


Basic Color Theory

All colors are made up of the primary colors. They are red, blue, and yellow. The next level of colors is created by these three, and they’re called the secondary colors (green, purple, and orange).


Now you move into tertiary colors. You’ve seen them before: blue-green, red-orange, violet blue, etc. Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are saturated colors. Pure color creations. They are intense, vibrant, and untainted colors. They invite joy and adventure. Marketing children’s toys, daycare furniture, school supplies, and summer clothes will use these colors.


Tinting is when you add white to a pure color. This creates the pastel color palette. Shades, on the other hand, are when you add black to it. Tones are when you add gray (black+white) to a saturated color. A key note here, when you’re told that a color needs to be “toned down”, adding a combination of black and white in different amounts will subdue that intensity. Digitally, that means understanding your tool kit. For tonality and color, use levels or curves. For adjusting color, use color balance or hue/saturation.


Now that you understand the basics of how the color wheel is formed, it’s time to move into one of the most important aspects of digital advertising: contrast and color.


Contrast and Color


Contrast is essential for both the ease of readability and retention of content in your potential client/customer. High contrast is easiest to read. Dark on light or light on dark are the best ways to do it, but you need to use it sparingly, especially when you use bright colors. If you have high contrast in everything, the eye won’t be drawn anywhere. It also leads to eye fatigue.


Your call-to-action buttons must be high contrast, but that means the rest of the content should be easy on the eyes. An example would be using a red-orange CTA button with white text. The rest of the content on the page is black text on a white background with a video. While the black on white text is high contrast, it is easier on the eyes than the bright orange button combination. Imagine what it would look like if the entire page was orange with white text. Not fun, right? That leads me to the next part.


Most people think having a difference in color creates contrast, but that’s not true. If their tone is the same, they will have no contrast. Here’s a protip on how to quickly determine the contrast in your images: convert your image to grayscale and review. You’ll be able to tell instantly whether you have enough contrast or not. It’s simple to do in any image software, and can show you whether you’ve missed the mark.


Color Combinations

Multiple studies have proven that people prefer simple color combinations of two to three favorite colors over bright explosions of color. Color needs to have meaning in your advertising. You want to draw the eye to specific things, so keep your colors simple.


Complementary colors (opposite colors) make things stand out. They are called opposite colors because they are opposite of one another on the color wheel. Blue is opposite of orange, red is opposite of green, and yellow is opposite of purple. An important note here: complementary colors can be attention-grabbing, so make sure you use it effectively. Because of their pure intensity when standing next to one another, don’t create digital ads that split the image 1:1. You want a 7:3 ratio of primary color to complementary color. This gives your eyes a break, and draws attention where needed.


The red/green combination comes with two problems: 1. It is seen as the primary festive colors for the holiday season, and 2. It is a problematic color combination for those who have color blindness. The color blindness issue is also true for colors that have heavy amounts of red and green in them. As a result, use this combination rarely.


There is so much more to color theory in digital advertising and displays. This is just the tip of the iceberg.