The impact of black & white versus colour advertisements

The impact of black & white versus colour advertisements

Amongst the myriad design decisions you have to make when creating an ad, website or piece of collateral is what colour should you use? Or more specifically, should you use colour at all?

Researchers have recently sought to understand the implications for consumer decision-making of using black & white (B&W) rather than colour. While colour has been shown to promote attention, memory and positive evaluations, the researchers were interested whether there was also a downside.


Rate the radio


Using a picture of a radio that was either in B&W or colour, participants were asked to rate its features according to how well it meet their needs (in this case, to take camping). When the picture was in B&W, participants focused on how easy it was to transport and its cost – so called “primary features”, whereas when it was in colour, multi-stations and attractiveness of display became the focus (“secondary features”).


In fact: “participants in the color condition showed a greater willingness to spend more money for the choice option that contained unnecessary secondary features. This suggests that at times, by emphasizing secondary features, color relative to B&W imagery may lead to suboptimal consumer decisions.”

In other words, when the image was in B&W, participants were primed to think about the bigger picture (why I really need this radio) and when in colour, they zoomed in on specifics (how the product looks). As the researchers note, “Perception research indicates that whereas B&W imagery directs attention to global form and shape, color directs attention to constituent detail.”


What does this mean for your website or ad?


Don’t underestimate the impact your colour choice will have on your customer. This study is yet another example of how decisions are influenced not by rational argument or logic but by subconscious forces.

Your decision to use colour or B&W should in part be determined by your offering’s relative positioning. As the researchers note,  “If a product is superior on a primary feature, for example, marketers should consider using B&W imagery to draw attention to these positive features. By contrast, if a product is superior on a secondary feature, marketers should consider using color imagery.”

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.



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