Using Color in Ad Design

We have written before about the importance of design in marketing, and color is one of the most important elements of design. Designers have always used color to convey different moods and underline the messages. Let’s take a look at some colors and what emotions or attributes they often convey.


Blue is a very commonly used in B2B messaging, because it is a calm color that indicates respectability. Because blue conveys reliability, it is commonly used by brands in financial services, healthcare and other industries where trust is paramount.

Ad illustrating use of blue color

But blue is also used to evoke tranquility or serenity: think of staring at a blue sky or a blue sea. It’s often used in ads for travel, adventure or hospitality.

Blue is also used as code for masculinity, especially in packaging of baby items.


Apparently, red has been proven to raise blood pressure and it makes you hungry, which is why many food brands use it liberally.

Another very common significance of red is love, passion or desire, due to its association with the heart. Red is very commonly used in Valentine’s Day ads for candy, flowers, cards and jewelry at this time of the year.

Ad illustrating use of red color

Red is associated with another popular holiday: Christmas, of course! In Christmas messaging, it is commonly used with green, even in industries that don’t typically rely on these colors.

Red also has some negative connotations: lust, adultery or anger. It is used to convey danger or a roadblock. It grabs attention, so is often used to catch the eye by highlighting a word such as “sale” or “discount”.


Pink has many of the same connotations as red: it is used to indicate love or romance and is heavily used in Valentine’s Day messaging. But pink is considered a softer, more feminine color. Pink is often used as a shortcut to convey femininity: toys and clothes for girls are often packaged in pink. Because of this, it is rarely used for products targeted to men or boys.

This color is usually suited to businesses related to cosmetics, fashion, beauty salons and romance. With its softness and sweetness, pink is also ideal for candy stores and any business selling sweet products. Brighter pinks are useful for marketing less expensive and trendy products to the teenage and pre-teen girls; whereas muted dusty pinks work when promoting sentimental services and products, particularly to an older market.

Ad illustrating use of pink color


What do you think of when someone says “yellow”? Sunshine, buttercups, sunflowers, lemons, mustard? Yellow is a cheerful color and can be used to add a touch of luminousness. It’s often used in food ads or designs, either along with red or with other complementary colors such as blue.

Ad illustrating use of yellow color

Use yellow to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings and to promote children’s products and items related to leisure. Many perceive yellow as a lighthearted, “childish” color, so it is not recommended in ads for selling prestigious, expensive products to men or high-end items targeted at the upper echelons of society (few people will buy a yellow purse or briefcase). That’s why, in marketing, yellow often stands for “low-priced”.

Keep in mind that too liberal a use of yellow can be jarring. That’s why yellow is often used in warning signs or to indicate danger. It should also be avoided if you want to suggest stability and safety.


The most common connotation of green is of course, nature or the environment: grass and leaves. As such, a liberal use of green can be soothing. It works well for outdoor products, vegetable stands and landscaping businesses because it signals life.

Green can also convey health and wellness. That’s why hospitals and alternative medicines feature this color. It also signals freshness, so you see it in ads for detergents and cleaning items. It’s even used for those items that keep us clean like shampoos, mouthwashes, toothpastes, etc.

Since green is the color of money, it is shorthand for prosperity. When not relying on blue or gray, financial institutions, banks and accountants often use green for just this reason.

Ad illustrating use of green color

A negative connotation of green is envy or jealousy.


Orange is a blend of yellow and red, and conveys many of the meanings of these colors: food, brightness and warning. It has connotations of energy and flamboyance. It’s less intense or aggressive than red but can be used in a similar fashion to grab attention and highlight important areas of a design.

Orange also signifies autumn, as it’s the color of autumn leaves and of pumpkins, which ripen during the season. When fall rolls around, requests for designs featuring orange spike tremendously, even when they aren’t referencing Halloween!

Ad illustrating use of orange color

You can use orange as a foreground color to highlight important elements or as a main background color to convey feelings of enthusiasm, vibrancy and warmth. Without screaming, orange makes a big statement. Because orange is also a citrus color, it can conjure up thoughts of vitamin C, freshness and good health.

There don’t seem to be standard industries that rely on orange (although it is very popular among sports teams). Rather, it seems that companies who want to break the mold and stand out in a crowded field tend to use it, such as Home Depot and FedEx (which combines it with purple).


Purple was originally the color of royalty, and still conveys luxury and expense. Purple is a rich, striking color and conveys warmth and depth.

Ad illustrating use of purple color

Bright purples are best used to promote children’s items, as it is the most preferred color of kids. Deep purples are often used on religious sites or those wanting to make a powerful yet firm statement.

Other businesses that might use purple include advertising, art studios, television and film companies, psychologist offices, gift stores or lighting stores. Florists also use purple.


Black is associated with darkness and evil: with dark wizards and black magic. Black is often seen as a color of rebellion or non-conformity, and is the predominant color of Goth fashion and make-up. It is also the color of mourning.

But try telling that to a fashionista! In fashion, black is elegant and chic. It is also the most common color of formal dress.

Black signifies power and professionalism, so it is found in technology ads. It is also a great choice for music shops, accountants, lawyers, electronic stores and tire stores.

In addition, black denotes space. Black text is most often used in writing because black-on-white is easiest to read.

Ad illustrating use of black color


White signifies purity, peace and cleanliness. Try to find a detergent ad that doesn’t have liberal use of white! It is also common in marketing for healthcare products and hospitals.

White is also the color of happiness and is therefore the usual color of the wedding dress. But the significance of color varies by culture: in India, for example, white is the color of mourning.

White is also used to mean “good” in popular culture, as an opposite to “evil” black.

In design, a liberal use of white space looks clean and makes the copy more readable.

Ad illustrating use of white color

However, the cultural significance of color is just that: its cultural significance. These aren’t unbreakable rules, and using a color in an unconventional way can make your design stand out. Look at these Mother’s Day ads, for example.  With most of the ads using plenty of pink and red, the ones that stand out are the first, with its unexpected black background and rich orange, red and purple, and the last, with rust-orange and white.

I’d like to thank Melchizedek Fernandez and Unmana Datta for contributing their views to this article. All designs used in this post were created by Affinity Express.

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

3 Responses to Using Color in Ad Design

  1. Pingback: Outsourcing Marketing Without Losing Your Voice | Search Engine People | Toronto

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