How Much is Illusion for the People? How to See Color with the Client’s Eyes

  • Psychological tricks

Don’t try to bend the spoon, it is impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon.


We are starting a series of articles on color. On one of the key aspects in advertising print. I’m going to say right away that, as a marketing expert, I have greatly underestimated the importance and complexity of the sphere chosen. We are going to study and handle it together. At least we have to become aware of what color is so as to apply this “awareness” practically in marketing.

Color as a feeling that is formed in the observer’s brain is much closer to the senses of taste than such concepts as length, weight and speed. The latter ones are easy to measure, but how to measure the degree of a cake’s taste? So, the situation with color is similar – it does not exist in and of itself, in isolation.


What a specific person is going to see depends on 3 components: the physical properties of a source of light, the physical properties of the object we are looking at and the psychophysiological peculiarities of the observer. Let us consider each of these factors.



The Physical Properties of Light


While speaking of the physical properties of light, two parameters should be singled out – its spectral composition and intensity of radiation. Let us try to describe these things with simple language and with regard to what is of use to us. As early as 1666, a young Isaac Newton divided sunlight with a prism and saw its spectral composition: red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, dark blue and violet colors. Later on, colors invisible to the human eye were discovered. For instance, in 1800, Herschel discovered the color “below the red” on the spectrum – “the infrared”… Different colors have different wavelengths, for instance, that of ultraviolet is 300 to 400 nm (nanometers), and that of infrared is 700 to 1100 nm. Due to this fact, they are perceived differently by us and affect living organisms differently.



Isaac Newton was a genius of his time. He was sure to know more than is available to a mere mortal (sunglasses may be added)


Another parameter we have to know about is the intensity of light. Actually, this is a somewhat “exaggerated” indicator in this context, applied instead of the “luminous flux”, “luminous power”, “brightness” etc., which are more appropriate in some case or other. Intensity of light is discussed when it is necessary to show how many times it is less or more than that of the light of a certain source – a LED lamp, the Sun etc.


What is most important of what we should know here is the fact that different

luminous bodies have different radiation intensity of some areas of the spectrum or others. Energy is allocated differently. For instance, the light of the classical filament bulb is yellower than that of the sun, and that of a wax candle is yellower than the filament bulb itself. Even greater are the differences of the tubes filled with gas glowing under the effect of electric discharge. This phenomenon is widely used in outdoor advertising, for instance, to make big, glowing letters. Gas discharge lamps with sodium are going to yield yellow light, those with neon – red one, and those with mercury – a white one (whiter than sunlight).




The Physical Properties of the Object We Look at


Let us ask ourselves a dilettante’s question: why there is roughly one source of light, the Sun, but objects have different colors? Any 7th grader is going to answer us that part of light is absorbed, and part of it is refracted and reflected by these objects. It is interesting that the optical properties of the material itself and the color of the beam of light falling on the object are also important here. Green grass absorbs the whole spectrum of sunlight except for green. The latter is reflected. A black ploughed field absorbs the whole spectrum of sun rays, which is why it is black. If the whole spectrum of sunlight is reflected, the object will be white. On the other hand, if one sheds a dark blue spectrum light on a black field, it is going to be absorbed, while a white album sheet will go dark blue… Our world is truly interesting because there are materials which absorb the luminous energy of one spectrum while emitting a different color themselves. The ruby absorbs the blue and shines with red. This beautiful phenomenon is called luminescence.



The twins’ suits reflect the whole spectrum of sunlight, whereas that of the chosen one is quite the opposite.



Marketing experts should have at least a casual knowledge of the abilities of materials to absorb, refract and reflect color. This is true not only for the materials advertising products consist of, but also for the knowledge of the peculiarities of the environment. For instance, snow can ruin a marketing campaign if it has been planned and assessed “in theory” against a green background. If advertising products are in light shades, they will blend into the snow-white background and, what is more, blind the clients, reflecting all the sunlight falling.




Psychophysiological Peculiarities of the Observer


The psychophysiological peculiarities of the observer are of key significance in what color they are going to observe (let me remind

sarcastically to my fellow marketing experts that the observer is our client). And if the physics of “dead” bodies is quite understandable, figuring out what is going on in the human head is a harder task. What is more, all people are unique.


Let us begin with the fact that there are two types of visual cells in our eyes: the more sensitive rods and the less sensitive cones. The rods ensure seeing in a poor lighting, but they perceive shades of black and white only. The cones, however, work in a good illumination only, but it is they that give us a bonus in the form of the color sensation of the world. Moreover, light with different wavelengths is perceived by different types of cones. For instance, three types of them, whose peak sensitivities coincide with the dark blue, green and red areas of the spectrum, are present in the retina.


Without going deeper into anatomy, let us point out that this structure is not identical for everyone. As a result of certain mutations, there are tetrachromates, people with an extra set of color-sensitive cones, among women. Such women see as many as 99 million shades of colors, whereas the average layman sees only 1 million. A notable person with such a mutation is the artist Concetta Antico. In her paintings, she is trying to communicate a “different” vision of this world. Interestingly, her daughter was also born with an anomaly – she is color-blind. As we know, such people are unable to see one or several of the colors familiar to us.



This is how Agent Smith “sees” the world.

Concetta Antico is trying to show us how she sees the world


Part of the population of Papua – New Guinea is also color-blind, not able to see green. And woe betide the marketing expert that decides to launch advertising dominated by this color there. However, although these examples are quite specific, it is necessary to know that such things are possible at all. Furthermore, the eye’s perception of color depends on the age and physical state of the latter. Any mechanism can wear and deform under the influence of the environment.


Further on, when the video camera of the eye has recorded the image, it still has to be transferred to the main processor of the brain and processed there. This process is influenced by a plethora of factors that can be united in three groups for the sake of convenience: physiological, psychological and sociocultural ones. Age, sex, the overall state of the body, the emotional state… However, the most impressive is the fact that it is culture and society that may determine what a person sees. This includes experience, upbringing, traditions, religion and even language. For instance, while dark and light blue stand separately for the Slavs, there is no such distinction in Germanic languages. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Navaho Indians and people from English-speaking cultures see colors differently due to language differences.

Blue and green are designated with one word among the Indians, whereas there are separate names for two separate shades of black. The Inuit, meanwhile, have about ten names for the color of snow in their language.



Red or Blue? The Choice is Up to You.


Thus, we have to grasp that color sensation is a most complex process to understand. It depends on 3 components: the physical properties of the source of light, the physical properties of the object being observed and the psychophysiological peculiarities of the observer.


That’s right, dear fellow marketing experts, we have to be familiar with that “rocket science”. Besides the fact that it is an interesting topic useful for general development, it will expand our understanding of what the client sees. Such power of knowledge will open our eyes to a number of errors in color use in marketing and provide us with extra aces up our sleeves during marketing campaigns. Even more than that, it is just the first, introductory article of this section. Further on, we are going to consider more specific topics and reach various interesting stuff such as optical illusions and color anomalies. Subscribe to my updates so as not to miss the following articles on color.

Article author
Сергей Роговский

Мастер печатного слова в РПК "Юнивест". Человек, который все поддает сомнению, затем сомневается в своих сомнениях и делает как сказал руководитель.

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