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The Psychology of Color with Instagram Display Advertising

The Internet is a vast ocean of online marketing. Blogs and banners float en masse across the web begging to be clicked by scrollers with fast fingers and short attention spans. In one sense the Internet has made display advertising easier than ever. On the other hand, it's made it accessible to everyone which has created an incredibly competitive landscape where brands aggressively compete for attention.

It's more important than ever to stand out against the background noise and there's no better way to do this than by understanding the psychology of color and knowing how to use it to your advantage in display advertising.

How people respond to colour

Every species responds to color but none more so than humans. We are highly emotional beings and despite what many people will argue, most of our decisions in life are based on emotion rather than logic. Color, when used well, can act as an emotional cue card, causing people to feel and think in a certain way without even realizing it.

Once you understand how to take advantage of this deep-rooted psychology, you will have your audience in your hands and will be able to shift their mindset and influence how they feel about your brand.

The Psychology of Color with Instagram Display Advertising

Color and emotion

The colors we use in advertising should be well thought out and considered. The best way to do this is to look at colors in the context of what emotions they evoke. If you look at color as part of your message and not just visual appeal, you can then choose the right colors for your brand voice and use it effectively in all your marketing campaigns. So, let's look at some of the primary colors and see what emotions they promote.


Red is a powerful and bold color that evokes strong emotions from love and passion to fear and terror. It commands attention and stands out from the crowd. However, use it cautiously as it can be aggressive and you don't want to unintentionally stir up negative emotions in your audience. You can add different tones of red into the mix to soften the effect, or just go for straight out bright red if your intention is to deliberately be bold and brash.


Green is an earthy and environmental color that makes us feel good. There's a reason why we feel content when we are in nature, as this is where the color green is found the most. Green is used to signify calm and safety and is particularly helpful in distinguishing right from wrong (for example when contrasted with red). Green is a perfect color if your brand promotes environmental issues, health, wellness, or growth.

Yellow and orange

Yellow is by far the happiest color and is associated with joy and optimism. The color wavelength of yellow is the longest of all the colors making it the first color we see and a particularly powerful psychological trigger. Yellow and orange are great colors to capture your customer's attention and make them feel good about your brand. Orange is a blend of emotions in the sense that it combines the power of red with the cheerfulness of yellow. Orange can be a powerful motivator and promote positive thinking and a positive can-do attitude.


Blue is associated with trust, security, and stability. It's one of the calmest colors and often used to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. This is probably why it is one of the most liked colors in the world. Blue reminds us of looking out at the vast ocean or up at the clear blue sky on a summers day which generates feelings of serenity and tranquility. However, if overused, it can be perceived as an unfriendly or cold so use it sparingly or soften it by combining blue with white.


Purple is a highly-sophisticated color that reflects luxury and cool. It is also associated with spirituality and mysticism and can even represent wisdom and imagination. It combines the power of red with the calmness of blue which can stir up deep emotions. It's a great color to create intrigue in your advertising whilst at the same time having a soothing effect.

White and black

White and black are important colors and are great for creating contrast in your advertising. Black is bold and represents sophistication and control. White is pure and clean making it a great symbol of purity. However, using just black and white can leave customers feeling a little depressed so it's better to use them as additives to additional colors or consider using a greyscale palette rather than pure black and white.Now that we understand the psychology of color, we can apply it in well thought out ways and have our customers feeling emotion that is in-line with our brand’s voice.

However, you can have a great color scheme, snappy heading and a good call to action, but all of this can get lost if you don't also understand contrast.


One of the most important factors in display advertising is readability and clarity. Your message must be easily read and understood otherwise it will be lost in the depths of content never to be clicked again.

For example, when overlaying text on top of color you need to create a high contrast for your message and call to action to stand out. Light font on a dark background and vice versa. If you're lost on contrast and find that your advertising text is getting lost, there's some simple tools you can use to make sure it's effective.

First, use a color wheel and select colors that are opposite from each other on the wheel to ensure proper contrast. Another great free tool is a Google Chrome plugin called ‘Color Contrast Analyzer’ which checks the contrast of text against a background so that you can better judge how legible it is.

Color and word association

As humans, we think in words. That is, aside from feeling emotion, we also have thoughts that are internal dialogue. Studies have shown that we actually associate certain words with certain colors. In a survey conducted, participants were asked what words they associated with which colors. The results are fascinating and further establish the idea of colors as emotional cues. Below are some of the key words that came out in the study.

  • Trust – Blue
  • Security – Blue
  • Speed – Red (no surprises there)
  • Cheapness – Orange, followed closely by yellow
  • High quality – Black was a clear standout here
  • High tech – Black, Blue and Grey
  • Reliability – Blue
  • Courage – Purple
  • Fear – Red
  • Fun – orange and yellow

Use these words as a guide when developing your color scheme to ensure you influence your audience in the right direction.

As we’ve seen, the power of color should not be underestimated. Not only will good color choice help your advertising stand out, it will also influence how your potential customers feel and think about your brand. So, choose your palette carefully and be sure to stir the right emotions in your potential customers.


Date: July 17, 2018 / Categories: Marketing, / Author: Rich Drees


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