The color of an ad is the most important part in grabbing a reader’s attention, allowing them to understand the meaning of the ad immediately.
You painstakingly copy-edit your Facebook ads, split testing headlines and descriptions. You probably try countless different images, to get exactly the right one that conveys your brand.
But this will all be for nothing if you’ve got the wrong color.
Research shows that when people see ads for just 100 milliseconds (less than a blink of an eye) then can still understand what the ad is about, but only if the ad has color in it. Even when you can’t read the text or see the image clearly, color allows you to process the ad quickly and home in on the message.
This is because there are specific areas of our brains that are hardwired to process color quickly and draws our attention to them. By including color in your Facebook ad, even if people are skimming through their feed, you ad will immediately stand out and they will know what your ad is about.
Here’s how to take advantage of the latest research in the neuroscience of color and make sure that your Facebook ads grab your customers attention in the blink of an eye.
How Your Brain Is Hardwired To Process Color
A 2008 study from Wellesley College, MA, looked at exactly how the brain processes different colors. Using brain scanners, neuroscientists looked at how different regions of the monkey brain reacted to different colors (monkeys can see the same range of colors as we can).
They found that some areas of the brain were particularly sensitive to color. Cells in the visual areas of the brain fire whenever you see certain colors, and are more sensitive to some colors, like red, than others.
This means that whenever you see colors, specific parts of your brain automatically light up, grabbing your attention and making you instantly aware that those colors are there.
This means that adding color to your Facebook ads is one of the easiest ways to grab a reader’s attention and get them focusing on your ad.
Use Red to Get Attention
In the 2008 study, the color that got the brain cells most excited was red.
The reason that your brain cells respond to red so much is that it’s natures warning signal. We developed the ability to see red to learn when other humans were angry (or otherwise excited). The red receptors in our eyes allow us to see the changes in skin color of other people as they get excited and blood rushes to the surface.
It can signify danger, boldness, and attraction. It also symbolizes sex and love, hatred and anger. We are immediately attracted to red, because it usually means something very good or very bad is about to happen. Red had the ability to bypass our higher-level thinking and tap directly into our primate brain.
It is by far the most powerful color. No other color has such meaning attached to it, and therefore it can be used in advertising to great effect. But with such great power comes great responsibility.
One study found that red made people bid more aggressively on eBay. The same 2011 study that found that blue logos were associated with competency found that companies with red logos were thought of as more exciting.
Elegant Themes aren’t trying to make their customers more aggressive, but they sure are getting their attention with this bold ad:
However, recent research suggest that a more subtle use of red may be better, especially in Facebook ads that people might scroll past. When researchers showed people ads for only 100 milliseconds, it was the color that allowed them to get the gist of the ad, but they also found that the color of the main item in the ad was especially important.
If this stood out from the background, the ad really popped and stood out. This Facebook ad from WEN Haircare does it exactly right:
Use Red to attract attention to your ad, or to make your brand seem more exciting, sexy, or passionate.
Use Green If You Want People To Be Hungry
After red, our brains respond most strongly to green. We like green because it naturally signifies freshness. Our appetite is still highly linked to evolution. Green things are generally good to eat in nature, and our ancestors would use this to choose food when they were out hunting and gathering.
The best example of the power of green from the AdEspresso Facebook ads examples gallery is Green Chef:
Their ads contain a lot of greenery, which works to emphasize the freshness and naturalness of their ingredients. The pasta salad definitely looks ‘fresh’, ‘organic’, and ‘delicious’ as the text says.
In this ad, they use less green, but it is still subtly there, including in their logo:
The addition of the bright orange and yellow peppers, along with the other bright and fresh looking ingredients really help these ads to pop and grab a customer’s attention.
Whereas Green Chef’s ads are overflowing with green, Blue Apron’s ads don’t include much green:
Almost no green. Instead it’s mostly blue and brown.
Green is a great way to whet people’s appetite, but blue is an appetite suppressant. When scientists placed people in either red, yellow, or blue rooms, the participants in the blue room ate 33% less than the people in either the red or the yellow rooms. Another study tinted food with different food dyes. People who were asked to eat the blue food, were more likely to report a loss of appetite when they were served teh food.
Blue doesn’t appear as a color of food in nature often (blueberries and blue M&Ms excepted). In fact, when things start to get a blue tinge, it generally means that they are not good to eat. Therefore blue is a color that should be steered clear of when talking about food.
Brown is never a compelling color. Only 1% of people say that brown is their favorite color. It’s not a good color to use for selling food. For instance, Sriracha roasted cashews sound delicious, but this ad isn’t exactly selling them:
Green’s link to the wild means that it can be used to emphasize the naturalness of products or causes. WEN Haircare use green in their Facebook ads so that consumers connect the product with nature:
Green can be used even more subtly. DermStore don’t mention any organic or natural products in their BeautyFIX box in the text, but you assume it is filled such goods because the ad places it in a green, natural background.
Use Green to link your product to the environment and Mother Nature.
Why Purple Is The Color Of Chocolate (And Luxury)
Purple has become the color of chocolate because of its association with luxury.
Purple has historically been the color associated with emperors and royalty. In ancient Rome, purple dye was so outrageously expensive, that only the super-wealthy could afford purple robes. In fact, sometimes it has even too expensive for Royalty, with the emperor Aurelian forbidding his wife to buy a shawl of Tyrian purple silk because it was too expensive.
Tyrian purple was made by crushing Murex sea snails, and 9,000 were needed for just 1 gram of dye. It also didn’t fade, instead getting brighter in the mediterranean sun.
Though chocolate is now ubiquitous, it once was considered a luxury product. When they were starting to appeal to a mass audience, early advertisers used the color of purple to advertise chocolate to highlight this luxuriousness, even as they brought it down in price.
Purple is so connected to the idea of chocolate and royalty in society, that it’s even worn by chocolate royalty:
Purple is all over branding for chocolate companies. Wonka, Cadbury, Milka, and Hershey’s Kisses all use purple in their packaging and branding. This ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk is almost entirely their trademark purple:
Here Graze use the same power of purple to sell their chocolate boxes:
You would think that selling something as delicious as chocolate should be pretty easy. But if you’re trying to advertise chocolate, there is a slight problem.
It’s not exactly photogenic:
This image for Little Emily’s Bakery doesn’t exactly do their chocolate cupcakes justice. I’m sure they’re delicious, but on the back of that image I doubt I’ll be making the trip down under just to check them out.
The association with luxury can extend beyond confectionary. Other brands looking to to set themselves apart and go upmarket can also use purple in their advertising.
Virgin America use it here, alongside their trademark red, to set their First Class seats as luxurious:
Even subtle use of purple can add a touch of luxury to an image. Here Mercedes-Benz have just a hint of purple in their Maybach, pretty much they pinnacle of luxury:
Make-up company Urban Decay was founded as a response to the proliferation of dull beiges, bright reds, and hot pinks that were the beauty palette of the mid-1990s. Founders Sandy Lerner (co-founder of Cisco systems) and Pat Holmes mixed together raspberry and black, and called the new color, a shade of purple, Urban Decay.
Lipstick is associated with the bright red, and Urban Decay use their purple in ads to push back against this idea, using the power of purple to both exhibit the luxury of lipstick and the luxury of your brand:
When you are making your ads, don’t presume you have to use the ‘classic’ color for your product. Though that’s a great way to tap into memory, emotions, and the social associations of the color, you can also try and use a different color to transfer the associations of that color to the product.
Here Urban Decay could have used red for passion, but used purple for luxury for a combined association of passionate luxury.
Use Purple to convey luxury in your brand.
Black is for Exclusivity
If your looking to sell high-value luxury goods, then black is your friend. Companies that use black heavily in their branding are generally seen as part of the very highest echelons of society, like Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.
Black is associated with timeless elegance and glamor — think Black-tie dinners, little back dresses, and black limousines.
Touch of Modern is a brand that has taken this idea and run with it, using black extensively in their Facebook ads to show the exclusiveness and sleekness of their products:
There is a problem with using black though. Many web designers will tell you not to use black in your designs, as it overpowers everything else. The trick is to use shades of black/gray instead. Truthfully, nothing is 100% black, in the real world or online. Most things are shades of gray.
In the Touch of Modern ads, they use different shades of black and gray to keep the exclusivity but also not overpower the customer.
Use Black to set your product apart as glamorous and a timeless classic.
Blue Is The Color Of Trust (But The Color To Avoid On Facebook)
A 2011 study found that when a logo is colored blue, the company is considered more competent than when logos of different colors.
Facebook uses blue because it symbolizes trust, integrity, and efficiency.
This makes it particularly good for B2B companies and SaaS, who want to show that they can be trusted. Here Xero, an online accounting SaaS, uses bright blue to stand out (from Facebook’s darker blue) and appear diligent when advertising their Xero roadshow:
But blue is a very hard color to use on Facebook as it doesn’t easily stand out. The whole platform is blue so anything of a similar hue will blend into the background. Making an ad fully blue will mean that people might miss it in the rest of the feed.
Color in Facebook ads is about standing out. The brighter and higher contrast colors you use, the better.
But if you do want to use blue, if for instance it’s part of your brand, then the trick is to use it more subtly. Here, rival accounting SaaS FreshBooks uses blue in their ads, but more subtly, showing it as part of their software:
Having the blue only in the middle means that there is a border between Facebook blue and the ad’s blue. The blue is an accent and stands out in contrast to the other colors in the ad.
Use Blue: to be seen as more competent and to symbolize trust.
Of course, there are plenty of other colors you could use. But its important to find exactly the right color for the message you want to convey and the type of product or service you’re advertising.
Color is a complicated issue. What men find compelling, women won’t. What works in one part of the world won’t work in another. And don’t even try using blue to sell to the Himba.
But get the colors right and your ad will immediately stand out in a feed, even if a Facebook user is scrolling past it fast, and convey the values and essence of your product in literally the blink of an eye.