Where would advertising be without colour? Eye-catching hues and vibrant pigmentations have always informed our perceptions of brands, and this ground breaking compilation of original interviews and research will explore both how colour works its magic - and why it is so vital to advertising’s future.
We’ll break our report down into six core components: Why the time is now for a renaissance in the use of colour in advertising, how colour dictates human behaviour and psychology, how it can be used as a tool for storytelling, the trends which are driving innovation in the art of colour today, how colour defines culture, and best practices for getting the most out of colour whilst on-set.
Because the truth is that creativity needs colour. And it always has. Somewhere between 40,000 years ago to 100,000 years ago pioneering artists combined soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and chalk to create what would come to be known as paint. For as long as creative minds have sought to innovate, colour has provided us the means by which to cast the images of our imaginations into reality.
Today, colour is no less vital a tool. It informs our perception of the world in ways we scarcely stop to scrutinise. Seasonal Affective Disorder suggests that colour is part of the reason we feel glum on grey days, and it’s why we brim with warm happiness when a sunset burns away beyond the horizon. It seeps deep into our psychology. Scientists have noted that warm-coloured placebo pills are more effective than those coloured blue or white. Conversely, blue-coloured streetlights have been linked to a reduction in both crime and suicide rates. According to researchers, this is because of an innate link between colour and our perception of characteristics. For example, we see orange and red as ‘stimulants’ whereas green and blue are more likely to be considered as ‘calming’ colours.
And so it’s not only creativity which relies on colour. All forms of communication do. The link between colour and human psychology is so established that any communications strategy must utilise its power. That’s why Nice Shoes, the New York-based creative studio with a long history and expertise in colour, has brought together leading experts in creativity, market research, art, and psychology to explore how an intimate understanding of colour changes everything for brands.
How can we rediscover the transformative power of colour and its ability to communicate on a more meaningful level? How can brands stand out from the noise with effective advertising? And how can we ensure a creative future which intuitively speaks to the full spectrum of colour and the effect it has on our emotions? Over the course of this upcoming series, we’ll find out.
Looking in turn through the prisms of storytelling, psychology, trends, culture, and on-set practice, Nice Shoes and experts from across the world will explore how colour is defining creative expression and effectiveness in 2022 and beyond.
Between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago, artists changed the nature of creativity and human expression through colour. With a little understanding and imagination, today’s generation of creative minds can do so again.
As our lives become ever-more entwined with the digital world, our exposure to colour on a day-to-day basis is only set to increase. Given we stand at the dawn of the nascent Metaverse, there has never been a greater potential for the creative industry to master the use of colour. And yet, it is precisely at this moment that the trends in our creative culture are slipping further away from realising the true potential of colour’s effectiveness.
To find out why this is happening - and how it can be reversed - we spoke to some of the most influential minds in the fields of creativity and colour.
As the chief innovation officer of System1 Group and the author of Lemon: How the advertising brain turned sour, Orlando Wood has long been a highly respected figure on the science and effectiveness of advertising.
He sums up the importance of colour succinctly. “It has an essential role to play in setting a scene and communication which, I believe, is comparable to music”, he says. “Beyond those two, it’s hard to communicate tone and psychology quite so effectively through any other tools”.
This is a view repeated by some of those who know the world of colour best, including Chris Ryan and Phil Choe - both senior colourists at Nice Shoes. “I think the two things which elevate any project are getting a professional colour grade and a professional sound mix”, says Chris. “As far as colour is concerned, even just balancing uneven photography so it feels more uniform can take the most troubled production to a higher level. Then adding creative looks to the footage will increase that even further”.
On which note, new research presented in Orlando’s latest book Look Out has underscored the effectiveness of colour in advertising and its emotion-generating potential. Using a campaign out of VCCP London (Donate Your Words for the confectionary brand Cadbury’s) as a case study, researchers tracked the emotional response of audiences to the same ad with different colour compositions. The study found that the cooler, blue-tinted version of the ad performed the worst (this is described as the ‘Cold Creative Look’) whereas the warmer, grainier version (named the ‘Creative Vintage Look’) performed best in terms of effectiveness. Using System1’s star rating - which scores ads in terms of their potential for long-term brand growth - the cooler version earned a 2.7 whilst the warmer variant of the same ad picked up a 3.9.
As that research highlights, there’s no doubt of the link between colour and effectiveness in advertising. “It’s simply one of the biggest components of establishing the mood, feel and emotion of any project”, says Phil. “If the question is how you want your audience to feel, colour can give you the answer”.
And yet, despite the deep and historic link between creativity, effectiveness, human behaviour and colour, is the modern advertising industry making the most of its potential? What if today’s trends in imagery - which push towards the digital, the sharp, and the clean - risk leaving behind priceless lessons and forgetting the primal link between colour and human behaviour? For Orlando, these are troublesome questions.
“Unfortunately my sense is that we are living through a cool kind of cultural darkness, or something of a permafrost in imagery”, he says. “Think of the work which has caught the cultural zeitgeist in the past ten years or so - Scandinavian noir dramas, for example, or Squid Game last year. The colour tends to be either sharp or cold, with not a lot of warmth around”.
Above: The emphasis on darkness in Netflix's smash hit Squid Game from last year was often interrupted by harsh or sharp bursts of colour.
For advertisers, this links to an often-repeated theme of Orlando’s research. Specifically a modern preference to speak to the left brain rather than the right brain. This comes in the form of sacrificing ambiguity for simplistic, flat, and often sterile imagery (“the left brain is not very good at understanding colour”, notes Orlando). The first casualty of advertisers neglecting colour in this manner, as Look Out’s research makes clear, is effectiveness.
And yet time is running out for creatives to re-learn these lessons. Only by doing so can we create experiences which speak to audiences on a deep, psychological, and fundamentally human level.
“Whether you are joyful, grieving, relieved or anxious, colour has always played an important role in the fabric of our lives”, says Phil. “There’s no question that this is translating over into the digital worlds which are at the forefront of modern culture. The ability to set the tone of those worlds begins with colour”.
Striking a note of agreement, Orlando adds that “if you want to create an environment in which people are happy to exist and spend time, it needs to be an attractive and beautiful one. And to feel tangible, that environment will need to have more depth of colour than the flat block-style you see in a lot of today’s communications”.
And so, there has never been a better time for creatives and brands to prioritise colour in their communications. The link between it and the psychology of the human mind is obvious, and research from the likes of Orlando highlights the extent to which it can transform the success and effectiveness of creativity. There’s no alternative: When we think of the future, we must think in colour.