Seeing Red: The Color Traps of Marketing

Today we’re delving deep into a colorful topic, literally.

It’s the role of color psychology in human behavior, specifically consumer behavior.

Let’s dissect how marketers like me use color to manipulate your feelings, and thus your spending…

The Color Code: It’s Not About Aesthetics

We all know the iconic red and yellow of McDonald’s, but have you ever thought about other places you encounter these colors? Gas stations, clearance sales, and even your Netflix homepage employ a similar strategy.

The psychology behind this is simple: red evokes excitement and urgency, while yellow promotes comfort and happiness. So the next time you’re pumping gas and suddenly crave a quick snack from the store, it may be the colors.

Beyond fast-food, think about how clearance sections in stores often use red tags. Ever notice how hard it is to resist that aisle?

The Earth Toned Wallet-Whisperer

The subtle magic of muted colors is easy to ignore, but it’s still having a powerful effect on you.

Let’s step into a high-end furniture showroom. With so much wood around, Earth tones reign supreme here, but they’re also aiming to create a tranquil setting that slows you down and keeps you browsing. Suddenly, that expensive coffee table seems like a reasonable purchase, and with everything so color-coordinated, suddenly your home doesn’t seem quite stylish enough, does it?

You’ll notice luxury spas also employ this color scheme. They create an atmosphere where you feel you have all the time in the world, and the more time you spend, the more you end up indulging in extra add-ons, and telling your friends what a great time you had – even if your credit card is still sore!

Darkness and Exclusivity: The Lure of High-End

Bright colors are easy to spot but don’t underestimate the power of dark colors. You may think they’re simple, but they wield a lot of influence.

When you walk into a store that uses dark hues, there’s an immediate sense of elegance and exclusivity. From Rolex stores to high-end art galleries, this color scheme is a subtle nudge suggesting, “You belong here.”

Think about the interior of modern cars. The dark tones make you feel as if you’re in a world apart, far removed from the everyday.

The Bright Red of FOMO:

Neon and bright contrasting colors are often the go-to choices for marketers who want to evoke urgency, but the big all-time classic is red for urgency.

You see it online, on TV, and on billboards, with commercials that practically shout at you to “Buy Now!” before you miss out.

I’ll do a whole article on the fear of missing out, or FOMO, but for now note the colors used, especially red? The bright red scheme pumps you up, pushing you toward impulsive decisions.

Picture the word ‘SALE!’ – you already know it’s red, right?

It’s become such a classic that you don’t need me to explain red means sale – but you do need to stop and ask if you really need or want the products?

Don’t buy for the thrill of getting a bargain, because you’ll soon forget how much you paid, but your bank balance never forgets!

Greenwashing Your Choices

Green, that chameleon of colors, serves multiple purposes.

Organic stores often use this color to exude an eco-friendly aura. But, it’s also has a calming influence.

When used in financial or tech websites, it implies both growth and yet also peaceful stability, which is quite the contrast. In marketing this kind of thing is used so that you put your own meaning into it.

You want stability? Green is stable. You want growth? Green is growth!

This technique is not just used with color, in fact what we call “strategic ambiguity” is used in a lot of marketing, but for now let’s stick with colors.

Talking of sneaky colors…

Old Blue Lies

Ever noticed the sea of blue when you walk down the banking part of the high street, or browse through your banking apps? There’s a good reason they’re blue, like the national bank of Germany pictured above.

When it comes to trust, stability, and a sense of security, blue is the color of the clear sky on a sunny day, the tranquil waters of a serene lake, or a bank saying “Trust us with your money.”

It doesn’t scream for attention like red or whisper quietly like pastel shades. Instead, it communicates a steady, reliable presence. Which is all the more reason to keep your guard up!

When companies want to say “Turn down your sense of distrust” they paint it in fifty shades of blue.

They’re tapping into deep psychological associations we have with the color, fostering trust and a sense of calm efficiency. So be careful

Alan’s Advice:

Try this exercise: the next time you’re shopping, be it online or in a physical store…

Take note of the colors you see and how they make you feel.

  • Do they rush you?
  • Calm you down?
  • Make you feel exclusive?

Being aware of such triggers gives you the upper hand, letting you stay in control, and stay sharp!