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Does black-and-white advertising help consumers make better decisions?

University of Chicago Press Journals

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, black-and-white advertising gets consumers to focus on basic product features while color advertising can influence consumers to pay more for products with unnecessary extras.

"Black-and-white images can lead consumers to focus on the abstract, essential, and defining components of a product. In contrast, color images can draw attention to the concrete, sometimes unimportant and idiosyncratic features of the product," write authors Hyojin Lee, Xiaoyan Deng, H. Rao Unnava, and Kentaro Fujita (all The Ohio State University).

In one study, consumers were shown either black-and-white or color pictures of four shoes (plain sneakers, leopard print sneakers, plain heels, leopard print heels) and asked to categorize them into two groups. Consumers who saw the black-and-white pictures were more likely to categorize the shoes based on function (high heels vs. sneakers) instead of the difference in aesthetic design (plain vs. leopard print shoes). In other words, consumers tended to focus on the basic product features when there was no color.

Companies should carefully consider whether to use black-and-white or color images to promote their products. Black-and-white advertising can get consumers to focus on the basics while color can help advertisers promote specific features that could set their product apart from the competition. Consumers should be aware that colorful, flashy advertising can distract us from thinking about basic product features (a car with high fuel efficiency) and lead us to pay more for products with frivolous or unnecessary features (a car with nice cup holders).

"Color has become dominant in marketing because it attracts attention and promotes favorable attitudes. However, there may be times when companies might prefer to use black-and-white advertising. If a product's primary features are superior, companies can successfully promote the product by using black-and-white images. On the other hand, if a product's secondary features are superior, companies should consider using color images to draw attention to these otherwise easily overlooked features," the authors conclude.

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Hyojin Lee, Xiaoyan Deng, H. Rao Unnava, and Kentaro Fujita. "Monochrome Forests and Colorful Trees: The Effect of Black-and-White versus Color Imagery on Construal Level." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2014. For more information, contact Hyojin Lee (lee.4878@osu.edu) or visit http://ejcr.org/.

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