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Prices in red attract men

Men respond positively to red, and this applies to prices too. In one experiment, they judged prices written in red as being 66% cheaper. Women are unaffected.

Topics: Pricing | Messaging & Copy | Ads
For: B2C
Research date: February 2013
Universities: Saïd Business School, Oxford University; Silberman College of Business, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Babson College; Le Bow College of Business, Drexel University.

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📝 Intro

Red is special.

Our preference for red seems to be hard-wired in our brain.

For example, one-year-olds prefer red over green Lego bricks. And sports teams that wear red are more likely to win, in part because referees are biased towards them.

Red affects men, in particular.

A famous study found that men who see a woman dressed in red are more interested in taking her on a date, and are willing to spend more on the date.

But this bias for red also applies to pricing.

📈 Recommendation

Write your prices in red to make them look better value to men.

🎓 Findings

  • When retail prices are shown in red, men perceive them as a better deal.

  • Women perceive prices to be about the same, no matter whether they’re red or black.

  • For example, in an experiment with a retail ad showing the (same) prices of 3 toasters and 2 microwaves in red and in black:

    • Men evaluated prices as being 66% cheaper when they were red

    • Women showed no such effect (difference not statistically significant)

  • The effect disappears if men process the offer in-depth (e.g. if it’s an important purchase, if they’re putting effort into comparing different offers).

Perceived savings between men and women based on whether the price was presented in red or black (Click to zoom in)

🧠 Why it works

  • Red seems to be processed by a different part of our brain than the one that processes blue and yellow.

  • Men, in particular, are influenced by it because red is associated with testosterone and dominance.

  • This applies to both humans and other animals. Oddly, bulls are color blind so this is not the reason they charge bullfighters’ red cloths (it’s because they’re being provoked). But it does bring into question whether one of the reasons that (overwhelmingly male) bullfighters chose the color was to show their dominance.

  • When evaluating ads, men tend to use their intuition rather than their logical judgment. Red positively biases their intuition, so they assume it’s a good deal.

  • Women use their logical judgment much more when evaluating ads, so they’re unaffected by this.

  • If men dedicate sufficient mental energy and evaluate the offer logically (as women do), the effect disappears.

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  • After seeing multiple ads from the same retailer with red prices, women seem to become skeptical and may even perceive it as more expensive. It’s unclear how strong and persistent this effect is.

  • An alternative explanation is that red attracts more attention, so men - being shallow evaluators of ads - pay more attention to prices compared to other product features.

  • It’s unclear if a similar effect could be achieved with similar colors, like orange and yellow.

  • Prices written in red could affect people’s attitudes towards a brand. For example, a customer could start to perceive a retailer as a low-cost option, and search for premium products elsewhere.

  • We don’t know how this affects people that identify with a different gender or are gender neutral.

🏢 Companies using this

  • Most retailers write prices of products on sale in red (e.g. Macy’s, Mango) to signal savings, but write their standard prices in black.

  • Value-oriented brands such as Walmart and Lidl tend to use red prices more often, even if products are not on sale.

  • Overall, prices in ads and promotions tend to be red, while standard prices on websites and in stores are black.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • If a large part or a sizeable amount of your customers are male, consider writing your prices in red, rather than black.

  • Pay attention to the broader perception you want to give and on what level you want to compete (e.g. exclusivity vs price). If you want your brand to be perceived as premium or luxury, this may not be for you.

🔍 Study type

Lab experiments.

📖 Research

Puccinelli, N. M., Chandrashekaran, R., Grewal, D., & Suri, R. Are men seduced by red? The effect of red versus black prices on price perceptions. Journal of Retailing (February 2013).

🏫 Affiliations

Saïd Business School, Oxford University; Silberman College of Business, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Babson College; Le Bow College of Business, Drexel University. United Kingdom and United States

Remember: This research could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.

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