Brent Coker Internet consumer psychologist Dr Brent Coker

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Website Color Theory and Intentions to Purchase

24. August 2011

 

Colors evoke different feelings. Pink—often used in mental and criminal correctional facilities—is associated with calm. Red—the favorite tie color of politicians—is associated with power. Purple—often used on album covers and fairground attractions—is associated with zany. And so on.

But what about intentions to purchase? Is there a color combination that makes consumers ‘feel’ like purchasing? To answer this question, we first need to begin with color theory. And then, an experimentJ

First, we need to understand why certain colors evoke different feelings in us. Let’s start with the classic color assignment of blue for boys and pink for girls. Is this simply social conditioning? Or is this attraction of color matched to gender from biological programming. Theory tells us it’s related to the latter. Traditionally the male role was to go out and hunt for food. The dominant colors associated with hunting are blue (the sky is the largest feature), green (animals are found near plants), and brown (soil). These colors are considered masculine colors. Blue it seems has dominated in its assignment to male gender because of its dominance in nature—the sky is the biggest feature. Pink on the other hand is associated with feeding—the mouth is pink, and arguably babies are also. The traditional role of the female was of course food preparation and child rearing, while the male was out hunting.

Ok, so it seems there could be some biological programming behind the mechanisms evoking color response. So which color (or colors) have the best chance of evoking feelings to spend money? We did an experiment (official results will be published at a later stage), and found the answer was…Green. And here’s why:

Green is the dominant color in nature related to life. Plants are predominantly green, mammals need plants for survival. This is why desert cities like Las Vegas install artificially cultured grass—the green foliage soothes us. A walk in the forest soothes us far more effectively than sitting in a room with no plants. Whereas once the symbol of a person’s wealth was their crops and livestock, it is now money. We associate the color green with well being, survival, and freshness. Our responses to colors are automatic, operating at a level below our consciousness. Green is the strongest candidate to prime those feelings of well-being and natural instinct to ‘bring home the bacon’.

 

I believe there are several examples of green websites that have been incredibly successful, that add evidence to our hypothesis. Of course we cannot wholly attribute their success to being green, we can only note that they were. Example one is Mint.com, a website that is predominantly green. Mint.com had an enormous challenge to overcome: they needed their customers to agree to give out their bank account details, and sign up to have Mint organize their finances. Their main competitor had a similar idea, but was not green (wesabe.com). Mint was an enormous success and sold for USD 170M in September 2009. Wesabe shut down in September 2010 from lack of money. Another example outside of the USA is http://www.woolworths.com.au, Australia’s most successful online grocery store. They have managed to outperform their main competitor Coles (not green color) on almost all levels, despite their similarities.

We’re interested to hear of other examples. Let us know what you think!

 

 

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Comments (9) -

8/27/2011 7:15:11 AM #
Hmmm. Brent, I'd very much like to know more about your research project - how many sites, method of evaluation etc.

I'm cautious because of the "Hitler in the Bible effect" - where you have very large sets of data, it's easy to discern "trends" that are artefacts of the data itself.

You give two examples - surely it would not be difficult to find very many successful sites that aren't green (Amazon, eBay, etc) and equally easy to find green sites that aren't successful.

Kind regards
Richard Milton
8/27/2011 10:07:25 PM #
Hi Richard,
Thanks for your comment! Sure, I understand your concerns. There is little information about the method in my blog posts, and I am reconsidering how I post them. I could post in abridged journal type format, but it tends to make the posts long and boring for people, and then I don't get any readers!

In this particular study, we used an experimental design, so sample size as it applies to cross sectional survey research is not really an issue (but even if it was we would have adjusted the alpha accordingly).

So the design uses a comparison type method. Sure, Amazon and many other non-green websites are very successful. But we don't know what would happen if there was a direct competitor who was green. The examples I gave a relatively rare: two businesses in direct competition, where one is green.

Brent

Roland Pokornyik
8/29/2011 4:08:58 AM #
Interesting article, but it would be nice to see the full research. Is it possible?

Thank you!
8/30/2011 7:03:07 AM #
I believe the color that better stimulate ITB (intention to buy) is surely linked to the industry and type of product sold.
Therefor there is not a common rule "best for all". Each marketer can perform psycho linguistic research to better understand the better color that suits the ideal positioning of its brand and stimulate ITB.
For example we identified that for a bank the ideal color was orange (in Italy we used these guys http://www.psycho-research.com/).
For an ADSL provider, after many many A/B testing, we identified that the website color with higher conversion return was RED (here the example http://www.afrihost.com).
All the best
Marco
8/30/2011 7:22:18 AM #
I would also love to hear more about the actual research.
Even if you have not had the chance to research outside the us (or western cultures) I would be wary of generalising on the associations of colours. Does the blue/pink thing hold across the world? Does the green thing hold in asian communities? What about Red etc.

As I said, perhaps your remit is the US only, but if so perhaps you should have some caveats in there to say so.
8/30/2011 1:51:49 PM #
Blue for boys and pink for girls. ...Theory tells us it’s related to the latter.

Not sure i agree, up until the turn of the century Pink was associated with Boys and Blue for girls. Also Green(animals are found near plants), what about women who were gatheres? Most of their exposure was green. Also woolworths.com.au turned green, 3-4 years ago. They were well ahead of coles well before then and they were red if i remember rightly.
9/2/2011 9:15:45 AM #
Its strange how such a wonderful concept can lead to such a great letdown, the analysis that led to the color green was deeper than the reason why you concluded green would do the trick. I have noticed that green is often used in charity organizations while white is used for sale oriented websites, take amazon, paypal, facebook and all rank 9+ websites. according to philologist, the trends of sale and attention vary from culture to culture and defining a color to represent sales has more to do with ethnicity than with gender, although gender does play a role. When you make sales you want the potential costumer to focus on the product, and that means removing all distractions from the environment , and yes, even color is a distraction, the dull while color with a gray background for delimiter seems to make better sense. as for green, there may be some truth to what you say but one also has to take into consideration tones, since green is also used by many environmental oriented sites. I think I'll try redesigning my online store with green tones and get back to you, i think its a venture worth undertaking.
11/23/2011 1:29:10 AM #
Simply profound and a perfect way to explain color recommendations to those who go with their "own tastes".

There is also one other important factor to integrate into the equation: trends. Celebrity artists and musicians have the power to use and promote color the way they personally desire. It often have a profound affect on how on people then view
And interpret a color or color scheme.
mona
7/2/2012 5:56:46 PM #
I think another factor to consider is the name. A site called Mint is more appealing than one called Wesabe, for example.  But I do appreciate the insight on colour.
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About Brent Coker

Brent Coker

Hi. I’m Dr Brent Coker, an internet consumer psychologist, and inventor of Webreep. Here I blog mostly about my research, and how customers behave on the web! 

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