What is Colour Psychology?
Colour Psychology is the study of how colour influences human mood, behaviour and decision making. It is not a new study; ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all studied the effects of colour on the human brain.
Why is colour psychology relevant to today’s business owners?
Humans are influenced, whether consciously or not, by different colours to feel different emotions and display different reactions. Businesses need to understand the power of colours on their potential clients when making choices about branding and imagery for marketing assets. The colours you choose for your logo and other marketing collateral need to be congruent with your brand identity.
If your colours do not match your brand’s ethos, personality and vision, your potential clients may struggle with trust. They may not even be able to explain why it “feels wrong”, but they just know that something is discordant. The way in which colours subconsciously influence our behaviour and decision making is so powerful. Getting it wrong can break your brand, so it’s vital to understand the impact before you embark on branding decisions which could turn out to be expensive mistakes.
The details of colour psychology for branding decisions
Each main colour invokes different emotions and reactions. The extent to which these emotions and reactions are triggered is different for different people, but there are some general guidelines which are worth considering when you are choosing a colour palate for your brand.
Most people, even very young children will associate red with danger. When it comes to using red in branding, it denotes excitement, energy, playfulness, power and passion. Red makes a very strong statement – it’s a brand that’s shouting, “ Look at me, I’m over here”. Red is not for the faint of heart.
Traditionally pink was the colour associated with boys until the 1940s when fashion retailers changed it to girls in pink, boys in blue. Pink was seen as a variation of red which is a bold and daring colour, hence it’s male association. More recently, there is entrenched gender bias for pink as a feminine colour. Brands that are predominantly pink focus on love, nurture and respect.
Bright and warm, orange denotes friendliness, confidence, cheerfulness and fun. If orange were a person, it would be the popular kid in school, the one who can get on with anyone. Orange is happy, expressive and enthusiastic. From a branding perspective, orange is often used to represent affordability.
Yellow is an interesting colour choice for companies. Emotionally yellow tends to represent happiness, optimism and a sense of freedom. The eye is drawn first to yellow, so it is often used for sales banners. Yellow can be used to great effect if you offer a low-cost, speedy and energetic solution.
The colour synonymous with nature – green promotes harmony, health and wellbeing. Brands using green are suggesting that they have eco-credentials and are a safe bet. Often used by companies in the health and finance industries to depict balance and growth. Green is the most restorative colour for the human eye.
Trust, sincerity, authority and loyalty are the emotions evoked by blue. Light blue tends to be more tied to peace and serenity, whereas dark blue or navy is more about tradition, respect and confidence. Most people’s favourite colour is blue, so it is a very popular branding choice.
The colour traditionally associated with royalty and opulence, purple is also connected to wisdom, creativity and imagination. Purple is also connected to a sense of mystery and magic but can sometimes be a polarizing colour – a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it!
Earthy, grounded and reliable are the traits associated with brown. Not so many companies use a brown logo as it can also be a little dull and uninspiring. Brands that want to convey a down-to-earth, non-nonsense attitude or who align themselves with environmental goals might use brown. Brown tends not to be a popular choice for a favourite colour.
Emotionally black can trigger feelings of concern and fear, but from a branding perspective, it tends to represent power, prestige and elegance. It can be successfully combined with any other colour to look aesthetically pleasing and can be used to draw the reader’s eye. It is often used by companies that sell to high-end consumers.
This is a neutral colour, but that does not mean it is without emotional meaning. Grey can symbolise sleek, high-tech and modern. However, if overused, it can evoke feelings of depression and frustration. Grey is a compromise colour and is often used as a background branding colour, rather than the main logo colour.
Symbolic of purity, innocence and goodness, white brings lightness and brightness. However, it can also be a bit cold and clinical. White is used in marketing to convey a sense of cleanliness and freshness.
Some brands opt for multiple colours within their branding. Very often they tend to use the primary colours, and this suggests that they wish to be thought of as multi-faceted, playful and fun. A downside of using multi-coloured logos could be confusion in the consumer’s eyes as to the true identity of the brand.
No fixed colour
A very few companies have mastered the art of not requiring a fixed colour for their logo. Their brand is so well known and developed that the shape of the logo is all that is required for consumer recognition. This enables the brand to flex the colour to meet different marketing needs depending on the product or the audience being targeted.
What colours have the world’s most recognised brands used?
McDonald’s is probably the world’s most well-known fast food chain. Their “golden arches” are the epitome of a logo which jumps out at you from the roadside. It’s pretty hard to miss. The yellow also suggest that buying their products will bring you happiness – none more so than the ubiquitous “Happy Meal”. Cleverly they have put the logo on a red background. Red stimulates the appetite and suggests speed and excitement. The two colours together are often found in fast food branding.
BP’s logo is predominantly green, although it also incorporates yellow and white. This is designed to present an environmentally and socially conscious image.
Coca-Cola’s logo has undergone many transformations but over the years the bright red has been a mainstay. Coca-Cola, like McDonalds, know that red is the colour of energy, excitement and passion and that it stimulates the appetite.
Finally, otherwise we will never get to the end of this blog, let’s take a look at 3 brands that are so well-known that their logo uses a range of colours and it is the shape which is the key design elements that consumer’s recognise – Apple, Nike and Disney. These brands do not have to rely on a particular colour of logo to be recognisable, so they can flex the colour depending on the message they want to convey at any given time. Powerful!
So, how do you choose your colour palate?
Think carefully about the image you want to portray with your brand. Don’t just choose your favourite colour if the emotions evoked by that colour aren’t well aligned to your brand.
Better to take some time to think through your colour palate when you first set up than find you have created a logo and brand identity that doesn’t attract your ideal clients.
For more information you may want to check out Color Psychology .
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