Use Color and Typography to Boost Response to Your Campaign

The following is an excerpt from “Design & Formats for Boosting Direct Mail Response,” the third volume of The Response Rules from Direct Marketing IQ. Visit the Direct Marketing IQ bookstore to learn more.

Best practices in our business are typically thought of in terms of list testing, format testing and smart offer strategy. However, the old 60-30-10 rule can mislead marketers into believing they’re doing all they can to ensure success.

After all, that famous equation gives many the idea that creative is not really a factor in the success or failure of a campaign. But, in fact, mishandling creative will impede success in any direct marketing environment, be it online or in print. No matter how strong the concept, if the creative fails in any way — the copy or the design — it will never perform as well … and it could fail miserably despite all other best practices.

And within the broad realm of creative, one of the most important tools for driving success – and one of the least understood — is color.

Used with understanding and skill, color not only helps your prospects and customers to see you; it also helps them to comprehend your messaging and ultimately respond to you.

But how many are using color to its best advantage?

Essentially, response to color is driven by human physiology, which has not changed in thousands of years, as well as our “programming” as humans, picking up cultural signals every day. It’s not about what color you or your designer prefers.

It’s certainly not dependent on what color your client’s spouse loves or hates! It’s about what really works, and once you’ve read this, you’ll probably see it as common sense. If so, that will make it all the much easier for you to remember and impart to your creative team.

I was lucky enough to learn about the relationship between color and response through my own testing, and from reading and viewing the research of two internationally recognized experts in the fields of design, color, typography and response: Colin Wheildon, author of “Type & Layout” and Dr. Siegfried Vogele, author of “Handbook of Direct Mail.”

Both conducted extensive studies with live subjects, and their work revealed consistent evidence that color is a much more important factor than simply ‘I like blue’ or ‘our brand colors are green and orange.’

For the Best Bottom Line, Contrast is King
These preceding examples are proof that contrast is an essential part of getting people to pay attention to, and actually read, your messaging.

So how do we judge what colors impede response, and which ones help it along?

The most important key to effective color work is found in understanding and identifying contrast. This is described as the value of a color: It’s how dark or light a color is.

In the black-and-white world, it’s easier to identify value:
0 = white
9 = black

But also consider that every color has a value, too. The human eye is 1500x more sensitive to value than it is to color. This fact means that when you have something that is colorful, versus something that has a plenty of contrast, people will look at the high-contrast one first, regardless of whether they’re big fans of color or not.

It’s human physiology, the rods and cones of the eye at work, sending signals to the brain. To see more about how the eye works with color visit Those of you who have kids may have seen one of the typical toys given to tiny babies — they’re black and white patterned blocks or shapes. The child’s just-developing vision responds quickly to that contrast!

Publish date: December 13, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT