The Best Psychological Color “Hacks” for Advertising

It’s no surprise that colors create moods — we know that blue is associated with calm, that yellow can signify joy, that red can be luxurious. But what happens when we move beyond the basics of color theory? A look at psychological color “hacks,” like leveraging the use of unexpected colors, to create vibrant ads that stay in the mind long after viewing.



Mood matching

Consumers are more likely to retain impressions and information that match their expectations or desires in a given situation. If you’re watching an episode of Top Chef, for instance, you’ll be more likely to remember an ad for a food delivery service than one for a new piece of exercise equipment. That’s also because we’re less likely to filter out information that’s similar to what we’re already engaging with or thinking about.


The same concept applies to our use of colors in advertising. Taking into account what consumers’ moods will be when they’re encountering your advertising if you want to send the right message with your choice of color. On the subway, most commuters are yawning over their morning coffee or heading home after a long day of work, which is why calming, pastel-hued bedding-related advertisements seem to dominate in these spaces.


Cognitive disruption

Cognitive disruption in general is a common technique for grabbing consumers’ attention and ensuring your advertisement stays top of mind. When something unexpected happens, important areas of the brain are activated, creating a stronger, more lasting impression. But what might cognitive disruption look like when it comes to using colors in advertising?


Using unexpected, and even clashing color combinations can make a strong impression, with an added hint of rebelliousness and iconoclasm. The message your color choice sends will depend on the specific colors involved, but because this technique will always send a general message of freshness, it’s great for new brands trying to make a splash, or for old brands looking to launch a new product or service or simply reach a new audience.


Creating narratives

Repetition and patterning will get consumers to remember your ads, and one of the best patterns you can provide is a narrative. That might be a clear story that moves from Point A to Point B, or it might be an emotional journey — either way, leveraging color in a more dynamic way and getting it to tell a story for you is one of the best ways of guaranteeing your spot is impactful and memorable. And because we tend to associate colors strongly with particular emotions and feelings, crafting a narrative out of color makes it all the more likely to be remembered.