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Latest news and insights on consumer behavior in the offline world

Psychology of Colors: The Trade Show Floor

Posted by Paul McPeake on 12/15/16 2:12 PM

Within trade shows environments, attendees are presented with a multitude of different products, and exhibitors only have seven seconds; to instill a positive sentiment of their brand within this exposure. The brevity in which attendees generate their perceptions of brands places a great importance on the color scheme a company chooses for their exhibit. Many psychologists believe that colors can evoke a variety of different emotions in the “eye of the beholder”. The ways in which a company’s exhibit color scheme affects attendees can greatly impact the success of that brand at the show.

 An example of the emphasis companies place on their colors is seen by FedEx’s recent decision to revert entirely to their iconic purple and orange logo. FedEx has used a variety of different logos across their several business divisions, and after about 16 years have decided to consolidate to one uniform logo. Originally, some FedEx’s branches, such as FedEx Corp., used an orange and gray version of the logo. Patrick Fitzgerald, the integrated marketer at FedEx stated  “We're so proud of the brand identity that we have globally. It's all about giving our customers the most powerful brand imagery we can." This decision by FedEx will help them create uniformity around their brand recognition through the optimal color scheme they’ve elected, and demonstrates the significance that major companies place on these determinations.

Some individuals, like the famous artist Rembrandt, believe the ways in which people perceive colors has been developed and can be explained through evolutionary psychology Dennis Dutton expresses this view in the Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology. He states that “The pleasurable experience of such sensations Kant held, contains no intellectual element: it is a brute feeling, often seeming to satisfy a desire (such as hunger)...” Just like how individual colors may impact us differently, the actual color that individuals experience can vary from person to person. This experience differs based on the amount of cones one has in their eyes. According to Satyendra Singh, there are three types of cones: type I is associated with blue, type II with green, and, type III with red. The number of each type of cone we have is primarily a result of our genetics that create the composition of our unique eyes. So, the fact that individuals may see colors in a different way does not have an effect on what colors they are seeing. They are the same colors in the sense that we know them, which helps maintain uniformity in how we expect colors to affect us as humans.

Now, a little background on the colors we all learned in elementary school (always nice to have a refresher). There are three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. These colors can be combined to create the secondary colors of green, orange and purple. Blending secondary colors with primary colors then creates the tertiary colors, like red-orange, blue-purple, yellow-green, so on and so forth. These colors on their own are very saturated and intense; also known as pure colors. To ease the potency of the hue, white or black can be added to the mix to soften the color. When white is added to a color it’s called tinting, and the level can range anywhere from nearly a pure color to slightly off-white. The addition of black to a color is called shading as it darkens the nature of the color. Mixing black and white together creates gray (obvious, I know) and when gray is added to a pure colors it’s known as toning.

Now that we’re up to speed on our colors, we need to identify which colors work well with one another. Complementary colors, or the colors completely opposite from one another on the color wheel, are the ones believed to have the most pleasing effect of combination. A study done by the University of Toronto found that people enjoy simple combos. Participants of the study preferred two or three of their favorite colors than trying to blend a large quantity together. Simplicity often works better, as complex mixtures can confuse people on what you’re trying to instill through a color scheme. COLOURlovers has launched a creative community site that allows the public to choose their favorite patterns of colors, and even has a section for branding that allows you to see trending color combinations, and the logos or brands that they represent.

After going through this crash course on colors, let’s talk about the different ways these colors can affect an attendees perception at an event. When designing trade show marketing materials and displays, the exhibitor is trying to design an atmosphere that stands out and attracts attendees to their booths. With the plethora of products and services being promoted at these events, the color scheme that a business chooses could significantly enhance or weaken their ROI on the trade show. In the study by Satyendra Singh, she tells us that the happy colors on the spectrum are orange, yellow, and blue. Therefore, illuminating these colors in your booth increases your chances of putting attendees in a pleasant mood while visiting, and might encourage them to stick around longer to explore your business.

Colors are also used to increase attention to content in an exhibit. An interesting article by Classic Exhibits shares that content posted on a yellow background is more often read than other colors, and exhibitors are using this tactic to highlight significant messaging or promotions at their events. The New York Times dove into the topic of how colors affect children in the classroom, and found that using vibrant colors, like yellow-orange, lime green and turquoise , throughout the school experienced an increase in energy. Knowing the energetic nature of these colors, consider implementing a vibrant color scheme in your booth if you’re launching a new product that you want to get people excited about. In the study done by Satyendra discusses colors used in restaurant atmospheres and found that blue and green calm customers and encourage leisurely dining. This mellowing effect can be seen through the branding of companies in other industries, such as insurance, where providers like Allstate and Prudential both use blue as the primary color for their logo. Buying insurance, or much worse, having to use it, can be extremely stressful, and the subconscious calming effect of a color scheme could help lessen the anguish in the experience.

Colors are also associated with temperature as well, where yellows and oranges are considered warm and cozy, while blues and greens are considered cool and enhance alertness. Looking at the product you’re promoting, what sort of feeling or memory reference would you like to create in association? Companies in the beverage business often use cooler colors to evoke a feeling of satisfaction from drinking a cold, refreshing beverage. For example, Coors uses the slogan “cold like the Rockies”, along with the blue activated peaks when the can is cold. The marketers at Coors have now placed you in their desired state of mind, visualizing an ice cold beer as a mini-vacation from a long and tiring day. Warmer colors can then be used to associate with higher temperatures, such as McDonald's, Frito-Lay, and Ferrari. Ferrari’s fire red associates with speed and “burning rubber”, while Frito-Lay and McDonald's colors associate with warm comfort food.

Brands should continuously examine their color schemes to ensure the association is up to date with their evolving strategy. Remember, when exhibiting at trade shows you’re only have a few seconds to capture the interest of passing attendees, making that “knee jerk” first impression the most significant exposure you have with attendees at the show.


Topics: Industry News, Trade Shows, Psychology, Branding, Colors