Why Matrix is Green: Choosing Colors for Your Brand Ads

Why Matrix is Green: Choosing Colors for Your Brand Ads

Why are comedies often so bright and sunny, while thrillers and detectives are gloomy? Why do some ads make us want to buy a product while others don’t?

Color in movies and advertising doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a tool helping creators manage our attention and emotions, set moods, and even motivate us to purchase. In this article, we’ll tell you how this magic works.

A bit of theory: Color wheel and models

In cinematography, specialists appeal to a standard color scheme, aka Itten’s Color Wheel.

Johannes Itten was a Swiss painter, art theorist, and teacher. His color wheel represents the colors of the visible spectrum in a form denoting different color models, helping see and choose color combinations for different purposes.

color wheel

Color artists consider established color models. Those models are many, but let’s focus on the four main and most common ones.

Monochromatic model

This model uses one color and its shades:

A palmary example is green in The Matrix (1999). The core color of movie frames communicates the connection to the program interface Neo uses at work.

This model often emphasizes the uniqueness of the world created by film authors, together with the fantastic nature of its narrative.

Complementary model

This scheme uses two opposite colors from Itten’s Color Wheel:

The oldy-moldy example of using this model is Amelie (2001). This movie is predominantly red and green, which contrast allows creators to craft an attractive picture.

Modern cinematography is full of Teal and Orange: They use this color scheme for movie posters to oppose phenomena or people visually.

Trichromatic model

Triads use three opposite colors; red, yellow, and blue, for example.

These colors are regular and echo each other in the protagonist’s suit in Superman (1978). Here we can see how colors convey the creators’ ideas:

The combination of red and blue communicates patriotism, as they are present in the American flag. Yellow comes from the police badge, making Superman a Motherland defender and an order guardian in the city.

Analogous model

This model uses the combination of three or four colors lying to each other on Itten’s Color Wheel.

Creators take one primary color, one secondary, and a tertiary color between them. The human eye perceives such a scheme harmoniously as nothing disturbs attention: Neighboring colors create a feeling of unity. A great example is Moonlight (2016).

Sometimes a seemingly unrelated color can burst into any model, which is not accidental. It’s an intentional trick allowing you to emphasize something or create a feeling of split and fragmentation.

How colors influence emotions while watching a movie

Comedies and dramas are often pleasing to the eye: Warm, “hearty” shades prevail there, and the whole picture is full of colors. At the same time, many thrillers and horror movies chill the blood with their cold colors and dark shades alone.

Sometimes color allows you to understand what is happening on the screen. Thus, in Mr. Nobody (2009), the protagonist’s three possible lives come in different colors.

In the Why Women Kill comedy-drama series, three women live in the same mansion at different times: the 1960s, 1980s, and our days. The series creators “paint” frames according to the eras, and the mansion’s interior also differs in color.

Colors influence our mood and affect our behavior. It’s about color psychology: Warm colors most often cause warm emotions, joy, and excitement; cold colors evoke feelings of calmness, freshness, and confidence.


Not only does the color itself matter. It’s also about its location in space and placement in a particular cultural context.

In his book Man and Color (1981), Heinrich Frieling offers the following table describing the specifics of the color impact on a person’s subconscious depending on that color’s location:

color effect depending on location infographic

(Image made via Canva)

Depending on their location in space, colors can affect a person differently. For example, brown on the bottom gives confidence and firmness; however, if on top, it forms a feeling of heaviness and pressure. Green, if on top, looks unnatural; when on the bottom, it calms and cools, and it can even have a hypnotic effect.

“Colorful” product placement in movies

Product placement in movies is a topic for a separate large study. However, it is worth paying attention to the color of the advertised goods.

Starbucks cups appear regularly in Fight Club. Read more about the placement of these coffee company’s memorable cups in this piece by Film Companion.

The color is not accidental here. To achieve the effect of native-ness, advertising specialists and production designers fit the product into the frame organically so that it does not arouse suspicion.

At the same time, the advertised product does not have to be the same color as the frame where it appears. For example, in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the product plays a key role and is super noticeable: According to the plot, the protagonist lays out a line of Reese’s Pieces candies to lure the alien out of hiding.

Color in ads: How do brands use it?

Colors in ads work the same as with movies. Marketers often use research in color psychology to design their brand identity, sales channels, and ads.

To some extent, cinematograph serves as a visual storytelling trendsetter: Many ad specialists use it as inspiration and “steal” some techniques for their ad design.

The red color works to grab attention and hook the audience.

For example, the red color in car ads associate with speed, activity, and moving forward. In the ads for food or restaurants, this color will awaken our appetite and promote increased salivation. Speaking of financial organizations, red symbolizes energy, strength, and ambition.

red tesla logo

The blue color is for lightness and freshness.

Green serves to communicate health, strength, and nature. That’s why it’s so popular when designing ads for related products: children’s goods, natural food, and cosmetics. It’s also suitable for advertising products related to health: clinics, vitamins, etc.

Yellow is positive; this color attracts attention.

The white color in ads is about neutrality, simplicity, and techs. It also causes associations with purity and innocence, which makes it suitable for advertising medical services or charity foundations.

Luxury, exclusivity, and high cost come with the help of black and its combination with white and gold.

Just check the Paco Rabanne ad:

Luxury as it is.

Remember Henry Ford saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, as long as it is black”? Black is about rigor, belonging to a definite class, and the importance of having a car. Another example is Chanel’s little black dress symbolizing a classic, restrained, expensive, and meaningful style.

The same principle works with brand logos.

Thus, McDonald’s is red and yellow for a purpose: They are easy to notice, evoking joy and boosting anticipation.

According to restaurant marketers, yellow and red make the perfect combination, forming a pair of ketchup and mustard. The red color is responsible for increasing appetite, while yellow evokes a feeling of happiness and comfort. That is why many fast-food brands use these colors in their logos and packaging.


How to choose colors for your brand ads

Instead of using stereotyped color combinations, let’s take expert advice on using colors in your ads efficiently.

Three steps here:

1. Consider colors that communicate a brand message

Color is a part of your brand identity, influencing users’ emotions and associations. According to some research, color is the primary influencer of purchase decisions for about 85% of consumers. More than that, color increases brand recognition by 80%!

Therefore, your task as a marketer or a designer is to choose the right colors and color combinations for the brand and its future ads. Think of associations you want to communicate to the audience: What colors can help you achieve that and increase conversion, not vice versa?

2. Study your target audience

When deciding on the color scheme for advertising, you first need to understand the target market. Is it kids, adults, men, women, the corporate world, families, moms, teens, or seniors? It’s critical to use colors appropriate for the target audience.

There is no right or wrong color. There is a color that suits the message you want to convey.

Market researchers have also found that color influences purchasing habits. Thus, impulsive shoppers respond best to red-orange, black, and deep blue. Those planning purchases and sticking to a budget respond best to pink, teal, light blue, and navy blue. Traditionalists respond to pastels: pink or sky-blue.

3. Remember your communication purpose

Color is not a panacea: With a small brand and ad volumes, it is impossible to trace its impact on the audience’s response. All this works for big numbers: When traffic is high, you can do a relevant A/B or A/A test to see if there’s some color influence.

Vector psychology and well-established psychological portraits of buyer personas can help find directions and distribute colors according to psycho types. However, when speaking of ads with mixed traffic, it’s impossible to target people with a particular vector and psycho type.

The decision would be to use marketing, not a psychological approach to colors.

A marketing approach to colors is about “calming” when the audience needs to focus and “exciting” when they need to pay attention or take action.

For example, you use a neutral, pastel, white, gray, or black for your landing page or lead generation form’s background but design a bright CTA button. (Yeap, red buttons still work, bringing an extra 1-2% of conversion.)


Consider the overall design, not CTA buttons only: If red doesn’t fit the other design elements of your ad, it’s not worth using it. Colors in ads are more about the general stylistics rules and communication goals:

Thus, a discounter may want to use basic colors in ads: yellow or green. It simplifies the color model and communicates the ease of purchase. On the contrary, a premium segment will benefit from colors and color combination techniques communicating the product’s high price: brown, black, complex gradients, textured pictures, metals, or expensive compound materials.


  1. Colors in movies and ads work the same. Consider Itten’s Color Wheel to find harmonious color combinations for ads.
  2. Colors evoke emotions. To achieve the desired effect, refer to the table of color associations: It can help you understand where to place particular colors for a better result.
  3. Product placement is an art. Sometimes it’s worth “hiding” your product in the frame, and sometimes it’s better to highlight it.
  4. Consider the communication purpose of your ad. Always. Before choosing colors for an ad, study the target audience and competitors’ ad campaigns. Be mindful of ad colors: Consider those communicating your brand message.

Author bio:

Lesley Vos is a seasoned web writer who loves visuals and their influence on human brains. She blogs on several educational websites and contributes articles for business, marketing, and self-growth publications. Welcome to her Twitter @LesleyVos!

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