Which colors are best?

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If you'd like to run just one spot color, here's how to choose it.

For sheer stopping power, red on a yellow background has been proven to be the most effective at catching people's attention. That's why so many emergency vehicles use this combination. But don't go out and change your advertising to red and yellow just yet. Think about what you'd like to communicate.

Blue, the color of the sky, communicates reliability, stability, and tradition, and there's no wonder that it's a favorite with businesses. Red, the color of fire, conveys passion, excitement, sophistication, and warmth. Yellow conveys such feelings such as playfulness, caution, and alertness.

Sure, many advertisers get good results with running the standard blue or red spot colors newspapers and other publications offer. You could also request a custom color to match one you already use in your business, but most spot color advertisers in newspapers and magazines, at least the local ones, stick with the standard colors available.

If you'd like to take things a step further and use a color that is considered "in" today, there are a couple of ways to approach it.

Ever wondered how products designed three years ago manage to have today's popular colors? Is there some group that decrees, for example, that in a few years Red Lacquer and Basalt will be in style and Essence of Lilac and Moon Shadow are out? As a matter of fact, there is.

The Color Marketing Group ( is an international, not-for profit association of more than 1,700 Color and Design professionals that identify and forecast color trends for all products and industries. Many manufacturers and designers, including Martha Stewart, listen closely and adjust their colors in the upcoming year partially based on CMG's predictions.

As you can imagine, membership is quite expensive and probably not the best option for someone designing their own ads, or ever many ad agencies.

The good news is that since the time between planning and designing an ad and actually running it is typically short, you really don't have to predict what colors will be in style. You just simply have to determine what colors are in style right now, and this is process is much easier. Just look around you.

Truly cutting-edge colors, which are also often short-lived, can be found first in fashion, so pay attention to colors used in fashion advertising, especially the ads targeting the audience you're trying to reach. A bit more conservative, and as a result longer-lived, colors can be found first in the automobile industry. Even more conservative colors can be found in the home decorating industry, including paint, since these colors will have to be around even longer.

Better yet, learn from the pros in your industry, examining the colors that your successful, major competitors are using in their own advertising. While we highly discourage designing your local retail ad to look like your manufacturer's ad (a common mistake especially among those advertising upscale products), we do recommend taking notice of their color choices, since they've probably done the research on what colors work best, and perhaps even consulted CMG.

Just make sure when choosing a color that the target demographic is similar to your own.

What if you'd like to use more than one color in your ad? While all of the advice provided above holds true for color combinations as well, the next page shows you how to choose your own great color combinations quickly and easily.

Next: Choosing combinations


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