Black & White Film

See the impact that updating a black and white ad with color can have on its effectiveness by examining data on recall and whether readers found the ads visually appealing. Verbatim comments illustrate the reactions readers have to black and white ads.

Our world is filled with color. Look around. Peek out a window or at your computer screen. Nature doesn’t come in grayscale and our electronic devices no longer dictate an artificial black and white world. Despite the millions of colors that surround us, some advertisers insist upon running black and white ads.

To see the impact that color can have on ad performance, look at the ad below that first ran in black and white and then was updated with color. When it was run in color, 33% more readers recalled seeing the ad. While simply adding color to a black and white ad does not guarantee success, in general, color ads will be more effective.

In the example above, when a black and white ad was updated with bright colors 33% more readers recalled seeing it. Our thanks to The NEWS and Airgas for their permission to feature these ads.

In addition to the example above, results from Red Sticker studies show that, on average, black and white ads aren’t as memorable as color ads, since 8% more readers recalled seeing 4 color ads than black and white ads.

Furthermore, readers found black and white ads less Visually Appealing than color ads. On average, a little fewer than half of the readers found one-page black and white ads Visually Appealing, while 71% of readers indicated that one-page four-color ads were Visually Appealing. It appears that there may be an opportunity missed when an advertiser runs a black and white ad. By offering readers a glimpse of their company that only about half of readers find visually appealing, advertisers risk leaving an unappealing impression on the other readers.

Beyond the data, what do readers have to say about black and white ads? Here are some verbatim responses about black and white ads that were included in On Target® studies in 2011.

“Needs color. Easy to skip over it.”
“Colorless and easy to miss completely”
“No color. Easy to miss completely.”
“Too small. Lack of colors.”
“It needs more color”
“More color”

It’s important to note that well-designed black and white ads can be successful, and simply adding color to a grayscale ad will not guarantee a boost in effectiveness. In general, though, more readers recall color ads and find them visually appealing.

Visually Appealing results were taken from 4,265 ads measured in 2005-2011 On Target Studies. Respondents were asked, “Is this ad visually appealing?” Saw results were taken from 13,215 ads measured in 1992-2011 Red Sticker Studies. Respondents were asked, “When you first looked through this issue, did you…see this article or advertisement but not read any of it?”