Color Correction

Whether people view images in color or black-and-white can significantly affect the choices they make.
Whether people view images in color or in black-and-white can significantly affect the choices they make, say researchers from The Ohio State University in Columbus. “Marketers may take it for granted that color is always the best presentation format for advertising,” says assistant marketing professor Xiaoyan Deng from OSU’s Fisher College of Business. “While color is desirable in most situations, it’s not desirable in all situations.”

Deng worked on the study with three co-authors, who include doctoral student Hyojin Lee and professor of marketing H. Rao Unnava from Fisher and Kentaro Fujita, a professor in OSU’s psychology department. The group asked 94 college students to choose one of two radios to rent for a camping trip to a remote site where only one radio station would be available, based on either color or black-and-white pictures of their options. They could choose to rent either a basic analog radio for US$10 per day or a digital radio with preset station buttons for $18 per day.

Of those shown the images in color, 50 percent chose the digital radio, even though they would pay more for features they could not use. Only 25 percent of those who saw the images in black-and-white chose the fancier model. The researchers explain that the use of black-and-white imagery draws more attention to an item’s larger, more important features, while color draws more attention to its finer details.

Only 25 percent of those who saw the images in black-and-white chose the fancier model.

In another experiment, 287 participants were shown images of two types of shoes—high heels and rain boots—and asked to sort them by type. Half of the shoes were a solid color; the other half were polka-dotted. Ninety-seven percent of those shown black-and-white images focused on the shoes’ more general features, sorting heels with heels and boots with boots. However, only 89 percent of those shown color images sorted correctly. The other 11 percent focused more on the finer details of color and pattern, placing the solid-color shoes in one group and the polka-dotted shoes in another.

This phenomenon could have implications not just on ads for products, but also on ads for big-picture future-oriented services, such as those related to retirement planning. By manipulating color, Deng adds, “we can affect people’s choices.”

“The Effect of Black-and-White Versus Color Imagery on Construal Level” appeared in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.