How Colors Affect Your Marketing

Services for Real Estate Pros with Mercari Consulting (formerly Brochures by Design)

Did you know that the colors you choose for your marketing materials affect the impact they make on your target market? It's true. Colors act as a sort of non-verbal communication. They also contain symbolism. So in your marketing pieces, it is helpful to keep in mind how the eye and the mind perceive certain colors as well as what the meanings are that we associate with each color.

Sometimes colors create a physical reaction (i.e., red has actually been shown to raise blood pressure and blue is known to create a calming effect). And other times colors have a cultural meaning (i.e., in the U.S. white is used for weddings but in some cultures it is the color of mourning).

Colors also follow trends. For example, burnt orange and avocado are synonymous with the 60s and 70s to many consumers. So, unless you're selling a retro look, it's best to avoid those as the primary colors for your marketing piece.

To understand color's impact, we need to know about color and color theory.

Finding a good combination of colors can be tough. Color theory makes it easier. In order to find a good color scheme (the set of colors that produces the best impression), we need to choose a base color then see which colors can coexist with it and which can't. Some combinations are uncomfortable, or disturbing - while others are pleasant.

Take a look at this color wheel. You will see the three basic types of color combinations: primary, secondary and tertiary. Color Wheel

As you probably know from grade school, the primary colors are red, blue and yellow. All other colors are made by combining two or three of these colors. Primary colors are seen as simple and direct. So they would be good to use for projects that aren't extravagant such as for preschools, kids' stores, etc.

Secondary colors are half way between the three primary colors. They are orange, green and violet. Bright secondary colors can convey action and excitement. They would be great to use for sports brochures, restaurants that have a lively clientele, etc.

Tertiary colors are created when primary colors are mixed with adjacent secondary colors. Take a look at the color wheel and notice which colors are considered tertiary. You'll notice that they are in between primary and secondary colors (i.e., teal and fuchsia).

Hue, saturation and value of colors
Infinite colors can be created by altering three variables: the hue, the saturation and the value of the color.

The hue is the shade of a particular color. Deep hues of violet, gold, maroon, etc. are used by marketers to convey richness and security while earth tones feel natural and inviting.

The purity of a hue is the saturation. A highly saturated hue has a vivid, intense color, while a less saturated hue appears more muted and grey.

Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a certain area. It is often used for emphasis. For example, variations in value are used to create a focal point for the design of a picture.

Colors often have different meanings in different cultures as I mentioned earlier. If you will be working with a client from another part of the world, it would be advantageous to do a little research to find out what colors mean in that society.

Even in Western societies, the meanings of various colors have changed over the years. But today, researchers* have generally found the following to be accurate:

Black is the color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner. It is also stylish and timeless. Use the color black to convey elegance, sophistication, or perhaps a touch of mystery. Black works well with bright, jewel-toned shades of red, blue, and green. Black is the ultimate dark color and makes lighter colors such as yellow really stand out. Photographs often look brighter against a black background.

Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility. In most Western countries white is the color for brides; however, in Eastern cultures it's the color for mourning and funerals.

In most cases white is seen as a neutral background color. Use white to signify cleanliness or purity or softness. Some neutral beiges, ivorys and creams carry the same attributes as white but are more subdued, less brilliant than plain white.

Used with light or pastel tones, white is soft and spring-like and helps to make the pastel palette more lively. White can make dark or light reds, blues and greens look brighter, more prominent.

Brown represents wholesomeness and earthiness. The color brown and its lighter versions tan, taupe, beige or cream make excellent backgrounds helping accompanying colors appear richer, brighter. Use brown to convey a feeling of warmth, honesty and wholesomeness. Although found in nature year-round, brown is often considered a fall and winter color. It is more casual than black.   

Shades of brown coupled with green are often used to convey the concept of recycling or earth-friendly products. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful.

Red is power. The most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It is also the color of love. Use red to grab attention and to get people to take action. Use red to suggest speed combined with confidence and perhaps even a dash of danger. A little bit of red goes a long way. Small doses can often be more effective than large amounts of this strong color. Multiple shades of red and even pink or orange can combine for a cheerful palette. Red is often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.

The most romantic color is pink and can be tranquilizing. Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy. Studies have shown that large amounts of pink can create physical weakness in people.

Both red and pink denote love but while red is hot passion, pink is romantic and charming. Use pink to convey playfulness or tenderness. Add strength with darker shades of pinks and purple and burgundy.

All shades of pink get sophisticated when combined with black or gray or medium to darker shades of blue. Medium to dark green with pink is also a good combination.

Blue is one of the most popular colors. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful, tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals.

Blue conveys importance and confidence. Long considered a corporate color, blue, especially darker blue, is associated with intelligence, stability, unity and conservatism.

A deep royal blue or azure conveys richness and perhaps even a touch of superiority. Combine a light and dark blue to convey trust and truthfulness. Create a conservative but sophisticated look with subtle contrast by combining light and dark shades of blue.

Mix blue with green for a natural, watery palette. Add gray for understated elegance.

Sky blue and robin's egg blue -- especially when combined with neutral light brown, tans, or beige -- are environmentally friendly color combinations.

Throw in a dash of blue to cool down a hot red or orange scheme. Grab attention with the contrast of blue and yellow.

Dark blue with white is fresh, crisp and nautical. Use dark blue with metallic silver accents for an elegantly rich appearance.

Green symbolizes nature. It is the easiest color on the eye and can improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing color. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Dark green is masculine, conservative and implies wealth.

With both a warming and cooling effect, green denotes balance, harmony and stability. Use several shades of green for a fresh, springtime feel.

Green with blue produces echoes of nature - water and forest - and can evince new beginnings and growth. Green with brown, tan or beige is indicative of organic or recycled products and can be a good color combination for packaging of those types of products. Tri-color combinations of green with yellow and black or white are sporty, outdoorsy colors. Purple with green can be highly contrasting causing a lively effect.

Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention-getter. While it is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Yellow enhances concentration, hence its use for legal pads. It also speeds metabolism.

Although it can work as the primary color, yellow often works best as a companion to other colors. Use bright yellow to create excitement when red or orange may be too strong or too dark. Yellow can be perky. Use yellow to perk up a more subdued cool palette of blues and grays. Use lemon yellow with orange to evoke a healthy, summery, citrus theme. Very pale yellows can work as neutrals alongside darker or richer colors. Yellow and blue are a high contrast, eye-popping combination. Mix yellow with neutral gray and a dash of black for a high-tech look.

The color of royalty, purple implies luxury, wealth and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.

Deep or bright purples suggest riches while lighter purples are more romantic and delicate. Use redder purples for a warmer color scheme or the bluer purples to cool it down.

A deep eggplant purple with neutral tans or beige is an earthy, conservative color combination with a touch of the mystery that purple provides. Green and purple can be a striking combination in deep or bright jewel tones or use lighter shades for a cheerful, spring-like feel. Pink and purple have feminine appeal.

The color gold is associated with wealth and prosperity. Add a small amount of metallic gold ink to a project for a special, rich touch. Bright gold catches the eye while darker subdued shades of gold lend richness and warmth.

As a warm color orange is a stimulant - stimulating the emotions and even the appetite.

If you want to get noticed without screaming, consider the color orange; it demands attention. The softer oranges such as peach are friendlier, more soothing.

Orange really stands out when combined with a medium blue. Red, yellow and orange can be a fiery hot combination or, in tamer shades, a fresh, fruity experience. Make it tropical by pairing it with green.

Orange is often synonymous with autumn yet the brighter oranges are a summer color. Orange is mentally stimulating. Use it to get people thinking or to get them talking.

Create feminine appeal with lighter shades of turquoise. Some shades of turquoise have an old-fashioned 50s and 60s retro feel. Teal has a darker, somewhat more sophisticated look. Like the mineral, turquoise shades range from almost sky blue to deep greenish blues.

Keep the soft, feminine qualities going by mixing turquoise with lavender and pale pinks. A bright turquoise and pink create a sparkly clean, retro look. Make it art deco by pairing turquoise with white and black. Turquoise with gray or silver as well as terra cotta and light browns have a Southwestern flavor. Turquoise with orange or yellow creates a fresh, sporty look.

Like black, gray is used as a color of mourning as well as a color of formality. All shades of gray can be good, neutral background colors. Use lighter grays in place of white and darker gray in place of black. Taupe -- a grayish brown neutral -- is a conservative, slightly earthy, warm shade of gray.

Light grays with pastel shades of pink, blue, lavender and green have a feminine quality. Darken those colors for a more masculine feel. Cool a warm palette by adding gray to rich reds or golden yellows.

Silver often symbolizes riches just as gold does. Silver can be glamorous and distinguished.

It can be earthy, natural or sleek and elegant. Silver can be used much like gray although when using shiny metallic inks, small amounts for accent is best.

Silver coupled with turquoise evokes the Southwest. A touch of silver pops with medium blue. Use silver with other colors to create a high-tech or industrial look.

Colors in Print
I wanted to quickly touch on the use of colors in print so that you were at least familiar with the terms printers use when printing your materials.

Most color printing is done by using the four process colors of ink: cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black hence CMYK. By the way, in print black is considered a color.

RGB - or Red, Green, Blue - is made through a light-based spectrum of hues. So, by combining all the colors you get white instead of black as you would using CMYK. Therefore, the absence of all color would be black in RGB.

RGB colors will look different online than they do in print. So RGB cannot be used for printing since it is light-based and not ink-based.

Spot Colors
Pantone is the most common spot color system. They are custom, pre-mixed inks. It is cost-efficient to use two or three spot colors when printing because it is pre-mixed for use when printing and the printer doesn't have to remix colors (or overlay the ink) to get those specific colors.

Color Schemes
There are five types of color schemes: monochromatic, triads, analogous, complementary and split complementary.

Monochromatic is the use of one color but with different tints.

Triads are created using three hues equally spaced around the color wheel. This contrast can be intense.

Analogous schemes are created when three adjacent hues are used together. A single intense hue paired with a muted tone can attract attention.

Complementary colors are those colors paired with its opposite color on the color wheel.

Split Complements are created when warm and cool hues are combined. You would pick a color then choose two colors on either side of its complement.

One last thing, if you're on a tight marketing budget consider using different tints of one color. This will give the impression that you are using several colors but, in fact, you're technically using only one thus saving you money.

* Information obtained from

Comments (33)

Mike Nooning
Chartwell Realty - Blue Springs, MO
Blue Springs, MO Real Estate

Lots of great info!  Thanks for reminding me to put more thought into my choice of colors.


Oct 01, 2007 06:06 AM
Rosario Lewis
DDR Realty - Newburgh, NY
GRI, SRES - DDR Realty - Orange County, NY
We send a lot of subliminal messages, whether we know it or not. Thank you for the insight on how color effects our message. 
Oct 01, 2007 06:17 AM
Don Stern
Realty Executives South Louisiana - Baton Rouge, LA
Greater Baton Rouge Real Estate

This is a great post.  Thanks for the effort.

Don -

Oct 01, 2007 08:06 AM
Stephen Joos & Chris Brubaker- HouseFront
HouseFront - Denver, CO
Wow, great indepth posting.  It is crazy how many little things can really affect people. Marketing is a really tricky thing to totally master.  Thanks for the great tips.
Oct 01, 2007 10:37 AM
Live Anza
LiveAnza - Anza, CA
Terrific post! You really did your research and an excellent job of pulling all the facets of color together in one place. I'm going to keep this as a reference I'm sure I'll use again and again. Thanks!
Oct 01, 2007 11:19 AM
Nancy Siau
The Lachicotte Company An Exclusive Affiliate of Christie's - Pawleys Island, SC
Selling Coastal SC
Thanks Evy for your post.  It is well thought out and informative, I have bookmarked it to refert to later when I need to make color decisions.
Oct 01, 2007 12:43 PM
Darleen McCullen
Raleigh, NC
Broker - Raleigh, NC Real Estate

Evy, Thanks for posting this. I'll definitely think more about the colors I use in my marketing pieces.

Oct 01, 2007 02:30 PM
Evy Williams
Mercari Consulting (formerly Brochures by Design) - Fredericksburg, VA
Mercari Consulting

I'm so glad this information has been so well received!

By the way, Ricki, that's probably the best comment I've ever received. Thank you so much for sharing it with me!

Thanks everyone,


Oct 01, 2007 02:42 PM
Pamela Burdette-Miller
RE/MAX Unlimited Real Estate - Danbury, CT

Thanks Evy- The colors we select are more important than we first think. Selecting colors is an important piece of our marketing/branding. Thanks for sharing the science and feelings behind the colors. 

Oct 01, 2007 02:51 PM
Jackie Peraza
Perceptions AdverStaging(TM), LLC - Framingham, MA
Home Stager - Framingham, Massachusetts

EVY - I too rated this a 5 as I know the incredible impact color has on the psyche.  There's a reason there's a color called "banker's blue" in advertising - it invokes the feeling of trust!


Oct 02, 2007 07:46 AM
Vicente A. Martinez
Prudential Douglas Elliman Licensed Real Estate Salesperson - Woodhaven, NY
Realtor, Brooklyn - Long Island - Queens Homes
WOW! I wasn't aware the impact that colors have. I have to say this was a very interesting post. Keep doing what you do.
Oct 03, 2007 10:55 AM
Anthea Click
Fresh Perspectives - - Franklin, TN
Nashville Home Stager - Selling Nashville, TN homes quickly!
Wow! This is a fantastic post. Very useful in my world of home staging. I knew alot of what you mentioned, but I also learned a tremedous amount, so thank you! I give you a "5" and definitely am bookmarking this. Thank you for your wonderful contribution.
Oct 03, 2007 11:55 AM
Debbie & Rick Miller
Paradise Realty of SW FL LLC - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Real Estate


Thanks for all the info on colors. We want people to look at are marketing materials and this will help us make the right color selections. Debbie

Oct 03, 2007 02:24 PM
Faina Sechzer
Henderson-Sotheby's International Realty - Princeton, NJ
Real Estate Expert - Princeton, Montgomery ,Hopewell, NJ
Evy - thanks for very interesting information. I actually went back and read your other posts, which are great.
Oct 03, 2007 04:25 PM
Nate Alexander
First Team Real Estate - Long Beach, CA
The Long Beach Home Pro
awesome. I've been meaning to actually look up color lately as I do a bit more graphic work.
Oct 03, 2007 06:52 PM
Vernita Peebles
Increase Realty - Richmond, VA have included so many colors with their impact.  I only considered a few...I think it is important to pay attention to color when advertising.
Oct 04, 2007 02:40 PM
Christopher Johnston
FlexBox Mobile Storage - Philadelphia, PA
Colors certainly do exude a feel. I'm curious about how colors work together. I noticed your mention of orange and blue, but it seems that complimentary colors had very different effects.
Oct 04, 2007 03:13 PM
Rosemary Brooks
BMC Real Estate - 209-910-3706 - Stockton, CA
The Mother & Daughter Realty Team
Great information, you could have made it a part 1, 2 and 3.  I will come back to it and reread it because it was alot to take in at this time, but all good information.
Oct 04, 2007 03:16 PM
Laura Monroe
Inman News - San Francisco, CA
Dir. of Industry Engagement & Social Media
Hi Evy~ I've bookmarked for reference too...that is awesome info! Hey whatever happened to our desktop publishing guild..? I was looking forward to that because you were the lead on that!
Oct 07, 2007 12:07 PM
Evy Williams
Mercari Consulting (formerly Brochures by Design) - Fredericksburg, VA
Mercari Consulting

Hi Laura,

The REVA Network Guild is still waiting to get our website up and running and then we should be good to go. I'll send you the application and other paperwork so you can be ready when we get it going!



Oct 11, 2007 01:32 AM