Color psychology is snake oil in most cases

It's no secret that color psychology plays a major role in the business world. But should you overdo it and let it all come down to the colors? And what is snake oil and?

Here are some thoughts and experiences that Jörg Dennis Krüger addresses in this episode.


Hello, my name is Jörg Dennis Krüger, and yes, as my IT technician at reception has already said:

I am the Conversion Hacker. Welcome to the new edition of "Conversion Hacker Podcast". 

Today with the topic of colors and color psychology. 

I am a big fan, as well as a skeptic, of psychology in online marketing, psychology in marketing, because psychology has a few problems. Among other things, psychology is often not at all reproducible, i.e. psychological studies. And the factors that change people's behavior are usually incredibly complicated. So that things that are observed in one environment, which are then attributed to psychological factors, suddenly don't work at all or work completely differently in another environment. Psychology doesn't have this "if - then" that we always like to have. So if something is red, then the user does it. 

And that is also a transition from psychology to color, because the psychological components attributed to colors are very superficial in many cases. Red is a warning color. Yes, but red is also the color of love, and red is the color that we have learned to associate with discounts and so on. So what kind of color is red from a psychological point of view? What happens in people's minds when they see something red? 

From my point of view, not that much, except that red is a color that is perceived very well. That's why it's used as a warning color for "stop", for red traffic lights, and that's perhaps also why it has such a value for love, because that's how it's perceived. Red is our blood. We have been conditioned for eons to associate certain things with red, but nowadays it's no longer just "warning and help", there's no way! There are enough companies with red logos that are very successful, and it's not: "Oh God, all the customers are running away now because there's something red", but color always needs context. 

So, in context, red can seem like something that is incredibly positive. Stop, red prices in an online store have a positive effect because they show me that this price is a discount price. So the price is crossed out next to it, then the price is written next to it in red, and then I know from experience: "This is a discount price" and that catches people's eyes. Great, there's a discount! That usually works much better than using a green price or something similar. And that's just generally this "No, I'd rather not use some colors because they're associated with something". You always have to see the context. 

Many colors on a page may or may not work well because other colors are available. If my site is already red overall, for example because I have a red logo, then red prices may not be as effective as for a store that actually has other colors. And in this respect, this is exactly the dilemma that we see everywhere in psychology, that it always depends on the context. 

In another podcast episode, I will talk about the "reproduction problem" in psychological research. This is because there are now major problems reproducing results from studies in psychology. So studies that have been carried out over the past 50 years and perhaps even longer are currently being reproduced and attempts are being made to determine "Is the result something that will occur again if we carry out the study in exactly the same way?".

And you always realize, "No, that won't happen again". And in some areas it has been found that the smallest changes to the study design ensure that people's behavior is completely different. Because such psychological factors are perceived by people in an incredibly, even minutely, incredibly sensitive way. And then the smallest changes are enough to make such a psychological, alleged model, alleged "best practice" work or not work. 

And in psychology in particular, relying on studies is just not that effective. In some areas, you can learn a lot from psychological things. But when it comes to colors, for example, this whole color psychology topic is completely useless in my opinion. It's kitchen psychology, kitchen table psychology, homeopathy squared, it's no idea, it doesn't work in most cases.

And that is also the reason why the whole topic of neuromarketing and all the agencies and providers that focused on it for a long time have now disappeared from the market. Because it simply doesn't work as promised and in many cases is more like snake oil. 

Snake oil? There's no such thing as snake oil! Snake oil is a term for selling things that just don't work. Just like in the wild west the traveling merchants from village to village who sold something unknown for pain or whatever, for clean teeth and so on. In the end it was just nothing, and of course you get lucky. It works either by chance, or by a placebo effect, or if you accidentally do other things right. If I brush my teeth with something unknown, then I will have less pain or cleaner teeth than if I don't brush them at all. So that's why, snake oil doesn't mean it doesn't work at all. But it does mean that what works is more of a coincidence or side effect. 

Okay, so "long story short", to summarize once again: when it comes to colors, pay attention to the environment. Don't take any strange psychological models into account, but look at "Does this color match my store?" "Does this color match the design of the entire store?" "Does it stand out or does it draw attention from another element on the page, which is much more important?"

And maybe in the next podcast episode we'll talk about the topic of "attention" and "attention analysis" for websites. There are some really great tools that you can use to identify which elements of a page are likely to attract a lot of attention and which are not. And then you can also use color to control attention. But here, too, it's about differences and not about absolute colors.

So I hope this has helped you a bit, write me your feedback at and feel free to leave a comment at Apple Podcasts or rate and subscribe to the podcast at Apple and Spotify. If you have any feedback, as mentioned before,

I'm looking forward to it. See you in the next issue. Your Dennis Krüger.

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