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Communicating in Color

By Larry Witzel

A few years back, the television network ABC made a big announcement. After extensive research, a marketing consultant had determined that they only needed one thing to freshen up the ABC brand. What was the big news? Yellow.

That’s right, yellow. ABC’s award-winning campaign using the color yellow became “one of the most discussed and debated in advertising annals.”1 And it was so effective that ABC used that color for promotional spots for over a decade.

We live in a world filled with color. God’s creation is full of it: blue sky, green trees, and brown earth, teeming with creatures of every color imaginable. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with descriptions of color: blue, red, purple and gold in the Tabernacle (Exodus 26); the white of righteousness (Revelation 7); the rainbow of God’s promise (Genesis 9). Do a search for just about any color, and you’ll find dozens of verses where it is mentioned.

God created us to respond to color. Madison Avenue understands this, and uses color in its rich variety to market products from laundry detergent to automobiles. And yes, even using yellow to promote a television network.

So why is it that so many churches will throw together a flyer, make a bunch of black-and-white photocopies, and expect it to be effective? We live in a colorful, visually-rich world. Let’s use what God created for His Kingdom.


Coloring to Communicate
According to researchers, using color in your printed pieces will increase willingness to read it by up to 80 percent.2 Color can draw attention to key information, making it easier to grasp. Imagery is more compelling in color, enhancing its impact. By using color strategically, it can facilitate understanding.

With that in mind, here are some principles to using color to communicate in print:

  1. Use color selectively. If everybody screams, all you get is noise. If everything is colorful, it too becomes just noise. The less color is used, the more effective it can be.3
  2. Use color consistently. Picking one or two highlight colors and using them consistently improves recognition. Too many colors can be distracting.
  3. Use color to highlight. Color prioritizes information, whether you mean to or not. So make sure you’re using it on what is important.
  4. Use white space effectively. Color works best with space around it, so make sure you’re providing adequate white space to set apart the most important information.


Say It with Color
When I was working for a company in the early days of the Internet, we wanted to determine the optimal color for use in online advertising. We switched to using green as the dominate color, and click-throughs increased. After a week or so, we tried blue, and again there was a bump. Then we tried red, and saw another bump. With each color, though, we found that over time the click rate dropped. That’s when we realized something important: it wasn’t the color itself that was increasing clicks; it was the change in color. The lesson: don’t always use the same color. Vary your palette with each piece to keep from getting lost in the clutter.

That said, different colors do evoke different responses. Here is a chart with a few examples of how different colors can instantly communicate different ideas, emotions and realities:4


Object Realities Represented

Emotional Shorthand for

Other Common Associations

Cultural Meanings


Heat, Blood


Medical emergencies

China: Luck and prosperity




Direction signs to public facilities

Various international: Immortality




Caution in traffic

Some Asian countries: Sacredness


Nature, Money

Envy, Growth

Environmentalism, Ecotourism, Freeway signage

Ireland: National identity


Fire, Autumn


Road hazards

U.S.: Halloween


Communicate in Color
Using color in your printed communications can increase your effectiveness. That’s one key reason why SermonView offers full color printing exclusively. With today’s printing technology, it’s also very affordable. So get out of the rut of using black-and-white photocopies, and start communicating in color.


1 Stuart Elliott, “ABC stays with old yellow,” New York Times (June 11, 1998). http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/11/business/media-business-advertising-abc-stays-with-old-yellow-but-it-s-evolved-form.html

2 Ronald E. Green, “The Persuasive Properties of Color,” Marketing Communications, October 1989.

3 LeRoy Bessler, “Effective Use of Color for Web Pages, Graphs, Tables, Maps, Text, and Print,” p. 3. http://www2.sas.com/proceedings/sugi29/176-29.pdf

4 Adapted from “Communicating Better with Color,” by Hewlett-Packard, 2005. http://hp.sharedvue.net/sharedvue/resources/?rl=ipg-brief-comm_better_with_color&pid=98&sid=&lcid=


Written by Larry Witzel
September 6th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

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