Reduce Color for Distant Events

We visualize past and future events in grayscale, so black-and-white colors perform better.

Nick Kolenda
Updated on
Tickets for tomorrow are shown in a vibrant color, whereas tickets for next year are shown in black and white

Grayscale ads perform better for future purchases.

In one study, grayscale ads performed better depending on the start date of a charity (Lee, Fujita, Deng, & Unnava, 2017).

  • In a few years? Grayscale ads boosted donations.
  • In a few days? Color ads boosted donations.

In a follow-up study, people paid a higher price for a hoverboard depending on the launch date:

  • In a few years? Grayscale ads boosted payments.
  • Tomorrow? Color ads boosted payments.

Why does that happen?

Turns out, we visualize future events in grayscale. Researchers gave people a blank drawing of a housewarming party, and people colored this drawing with more grey if the party was occurring in five years (Lee, Fujita, Deng, & Unnava, 2017).

Picture of a party that gets faded when it moves further away in time from the present moment

Always reflect on the timeline of the purchase: Will it occur in the distant future? Then use gray colors to match the mental imagery of viewers. These ads will “feel right.”

  • Lee, H., Fujita, K., Deng, X., & Unnava, H. R. (2017). The role of temporal distance on the color of future-directed imagery: A construal-level perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 43(5), 707-725.