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How Color Influences What You Buy

How Color Influences What You Buy

What you need to know before your next shopping trip.

How Color Influences What You Buy

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 13:15

Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- The next time you're surfing the internet on a late night shopping spree, you might want to pay better attention to the images. It turns out that colored pictures may influence what you buy.

Companies and advertisers use lots of tactics to get consumers to buy their products, from packaging to pricing to where a product is placed -- many things influence what you buy. 

For years, color images have been used as the best way to get your attention to buy stuff. Not so anymore say researchers at The Ohio State University. 

"All of these years, black and white was only seen as an inferior way of doing things as compared to color, but now we are showing that under certain conditions, black and white is superior to having color," said Rao Unnava, a consumer psychologist at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

When it comes to buying things -- it's really your brain that matters -- not your wallet.

Viewing objects in black and white helps our brains focus on what's most important in a product. Color is distracting -- so you end up paying more attention to unnecessary details and features that you may not need.

So, what's the best thing to do if you're trying to sell something?

"We suggest them to use black and white if they want to promote the most primary, the most important feature of the product," said Xiaoyan Deng, a consumer psychologist at OSU.

In a study, 50 percent of participants were willing to pay a higher price for a product shown in color, even though it had useless features and was more expensive than a comparable product. 

The research suggests that color or no color can be used strategically to change how consumers feel about a product.

"I think the benefit of using black and white images is that it can help people pick out the most important information from the picture," said Deng.

Researchers believe that our brains interpret black and white images similar to night vision -- we filter out the details to see what's important.

So, the bottom line -- if you want people to see details -- put it in color. If you want people to ignore the small things and focus on key features -- put it in black and white.

Get Inside the Science

Look, Something Shiny! How Color Images Can Influence Consumers

Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University

Xiaoyan Deng, Ohio State University

H. Rao Unnava, Ohio State University

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.