Colour ads influence people to buy more unnecessary frills

Use black-and-white ads if you want consumers to focus on a product's basic features

Family watching a black-and-white TV


People who view ads in colour are likely to pay more for products with unnecessary extras, say researchers from Ohio State University.

In one experiment, the study’s authors showed consumers either black-and-white or colour pictures of four different types of shoes: plain sneakers, leopard print sneakers, plain heels and leopard print heels. The participants were asked to categorize them into two groups. Those who saw the black-and-white pictures were more likely to categorize the shoes based on function—like high heels versus sneakers—instead of aesthetic design—like plain versus leopard-printed shoes.

The researchers found that when images of a product were viewed in black and white, individuals were likely to focus on its essential features instead of superficial ones.

The study’s authors say companies should really think about whether to use black-and white or colour advertising to promote their products. Black-and-white advertising can get consumers to focus on a product’s function, whereas colour can help advertisers promote special—or superficial—features that would set a product apart from the competition. For instance, a car that has good fuel efficiency (a basic feature) versus a car with nice cup holders (an unnecessary feature).

Sadly for the black-and-white television lobby, this news comes nearly 50 years too late.