The Psychology of Color in Branding & Marketing

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By Alycia Jones on April 28, 2022

Humans are extremely visual creatures. We have five senses at our disposal, but we use sight to perceive up to 80% of our world. And we aren’t absorbing this information through an unbiased lens. In fact, research shows different colors can actually influence human behavior and emotions. That means when you choose your brand’s color scheme, you have the (somewhat limited) power to guide people’s feelings and perceptions of your brand.

In one study, researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments about products or businesses were based on color alone. It’s important to note that what a color means to one person might not be the same to another—it’s all based on personal experiences and context. Someone’s personal preferences, life experiences and cultural differences can all impact what thoughts and feelings they attribute to a specific color.

That being said, there are still some overarching psychological patterns that can help you choose the right color for your brand. In this article, we’ll explore the 6 primary colors (the colors of the rainbow) and how they typically affect people’s perception of your brand.

Red

Positive perceptions:Power, Strength, Heat, Importance, Passion

Negative Perceptions:Anger, Pain, Rejection

The color red boasts the longest wavelength on the spectrum, which makes it the most attention-grabbing color that the human eye can see. It can physically raise our heart rate, stimulating a sense of urgency, excitement and even passion. But once it has our attention, the context of the situation will define how we perceive it.

For example, if you see a McDonald’s or Coca-Cola sign, the red in their designs will likely stimulate your appetite and thus drive you to their products. But when non-food brands use red, it can convey power, strength and certainty. This versatility and innate responsiveness is why red is a popular color choice in the marketing world.

As we mentioned, context and personal experiences are a big factor in how people perceive colors, which can turn options into a double-edged sword when used inappropriately. Because red is such a bold color, it can come off as aggressive, angry or painful in the wrong settings. This is why red isn’t typically used in healing, self-care, meditation or other calming and wellness industries.

Example: Marvel

There are tons of brands that effectively harness the power of red, but one of my personal favorites is Marvel. Those big, red-trimmed letters were no accident. The color was chosen specifically to reflect the power and strength of the brand’s fictional world of superheroes and command your attention when it fades onto the screen. When you see the Marvel logo, you know you’re about to get an exciting, action-packed two hours of cinema.

Yellow

Positive perceptions: Happy, Optimistic, Intellectual, Perky, Youthful

Negative perceptions: Aggravating, Cautious, Anxious

Yellow can be tricky because it has two opposing emotional effects on people. When used in the right place with the right audience, it has a knack for lifting self-esteem, promoting a sense of optimism and fostering feelings of clarity. This is why it’s commonly seen in academic products like study services or informational companies that want you to feel hopeful and empowered.

When companies use yellow too much or incorrectly (such as bright shades or unnatural tints), it can make people feel anxious, uncomfortable and even fearful. For example, how would you feel if you went to a website and the main color was highlighter yellow? It would probably be overwhelming, and you might even leave the site altogether.

Some brands, however, have found a way to leverage those negative emotions in their favor. For example, fast food chains often use the red/yellow color combination because their business is about quick conversions. Red, as we mentioned, makes you hungry, and yellow keeps you from sticking around too long.

Used in the correct way with the right audience, yellow can be one of the most influential colors to use in branding and marketing.

Example: Snapchat

There is no shortage of social media platforms in the marketplace, but none of them utilize their colors quite the way Snapchat does. This platform uses bright yellow to evoke feelings of happiness and youthfulness, which is incredibly appealing to their 15-25-year-old key demographic. It also helps them stand out from the blues and reds that dominate their industry as something bright, new and fun in the social media space.

Orange

Positive perceptions: Excitement, Warmth, Enthusiasm, Confidence, Extroversion

Negative perceptions: Ignorance, Flippancy, Impulsiveness, Insincerity

Orange is a fun, bright color. Its enthusiastic and warm demeanor make it a favored choice for children’s brands and sun products, such as sunscreen or tanning oil. On the other hand, the construction has adopted this color because it has a high visibility. That “safety orange” color is hard to miss and puts people on high alert when they see it.

Orange holds a unique place in marketing strategies because people will make color associations with both of its contributing hues, red and yellow. It has the attention-grabbing power of red with the combined cheeriness of yellow. This makes it an approachable and highly appealing color for the right target audience.

For the wrong audience or if the color is overused, however, orange can come off as obnoxious. Introverted individuals tend to lean away from orange’s extroverted and enthusiastic attitude, but youthful, extroverted and energized audiences will gravitate toward it. Again, it’s all about the context of who you’re trying to reach and what’s most appealing to them and their personality.

Example: Nickelodeon

No one has more energy and enthusiasm than children, which is why Nickelodeon uses orange in its branding. The fun, vibrancy of orange perfectly matches Nickelodeon’s brand personality and that of their target audience. It’s attention-grabbing, engaging and gets kids excited to watch their shows.

Blue

Positive perceptions: Calm, Clear, Secure, Peaceful, Healing, Reliable

Negative perceptions: Cold, Passive, Gloomy, Predictable, Quiet

Blue makes people feel calm and secure, which is why so many insurance companies and global corporations use it. It also wins the vote for the most popular color preference, which could be good and bad for your brand. Its widespread likeability means lots of people are attracted to it, but it can also make your brand feel predictable or make it hard to stand out from the competition.

It’s also important to take into consideration how your brand wants to be perceived when using blue. The color can be great if you want to appear peaceful and approachable, lending some peace of mind to potential customers. But if you want to excite your audience and appear unique and creative, then blue’s traits might be too muted for your brand.

Example: Progressive

Most insurance companies incorporate some form of blue into their brand design, but Progressive does a particularly good job. The brand uses a lighter shade of blue so it’s easy to approach and surrounds its marketing materials with lots of white space. The lightness to their designs adds an extra sense of calmness and clarity for their audience, which encourages exploring their services.

Green

Positive perceptions: Clean, Fresh, Trustworthy, Growth, Wealth, Health, Safety, Luck

Negative perceptions: Envious, Sick, Jealous, Contaminated

Green is a popular color for hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and health food brands because it has strong connotations of being eco-friendly and promotes ideas of general wellness. It also happens to be the color people trust the most. Why? Because on a primitive level, green reassures people that we’re in a bountiful environment with water and food, which supports our need to survive and thrive.

Green does more than just appeal to our innate needs, though. It’s also used in the modern world as the signal for “go” and “enter” and other positive actions. That’s why businesses across the board use green buttons on their website—to encourage clicks.

Tech companies also use this company to establish their dependability and foster trust with their customers. Think of Quickbooks, for example. They use green not only to symbolize money but also to represent the clean, easy-to-use software design.

Like other colors, you have to be careful how you use green and what specific color in that hue you choose. The brighter, more vibrant shades of green are often associated with chemical contamination or being sick, as those shades are often used in health and safety warnings and posters.

Example: Whole Foods

Perhaps one of the most widely recognized brands that effectively utilizes green is Whole Foods. Even after the Amazon buyout, this global health food chain uses an informative color palette to tell their audience what they’re all about. The green represents health and wellness, as well as nods to the many organic options the grocery store offers. Accent colors in their scheme are neutral creams and browns to further convey a connection to the earth, represent the brand’s natural products and remind customers that they believe in eco-friendly practices.

Purple

Positive perceptions: Royal, Charming, Creative, Spiritual, Imaginative, Ambitious, Luxurious

Negative Traits: Excessive, Arrogant, Pompous

Purple is often regarded as the color of royalty. It has the shortest wavelength on the color spectrum, so is the last color humans can see before getting into ultraviolet. Because of this position, it tends to take awareness to a higher level of thought, which can boost spirituality, creativity and imagination. The last two attributes are part of the reason purple is used so often in toy and candy packaging targeted to children.

Purple also tends to get lumped in with other feminine colors because it’s so close to pink on the color wheel. This means there’s plenty of feminine products and female-focused brands who adopt the color to reflect their target audience. If you’re looking for a more male-centric or mixed demographic, it might be best to limit or avoid purple in your brand colors.

Lastly, this color often symbolizes luxury and royalty. Before artificial coloring, purple was the most expensive color to reproduce, so wearing it was a sign of status. Although it’s not difficult to dye materials this color anymore, it still holds the association for most people. Brands that liken themselves to royalty or stand apart due to the luxurious or elite nature of their products often do well using purple in their color scheme.

Example: Crown Royal

This whiskey brand is the perfect example of using purple to express royalty. It’s right in the name! The deep shade of purple emphasizes that it’s an expensive, luxury product for those who don’t mind splurging a little. Paired with gold trimmings, their graphic design and packaging feels extravagant and indulgent—a perfect pair to entice a customer who wants to treat themselves.

Let Your Colors Lead the Way

Choosing the right color that accurately embodies your brand is crucial to building a truly authentic brand identity. It’s important to know your audience and the context of your business in their lives to find a color that can support your marketing goals. Our designers love talking color with clients, so if you need a hand choosing your brand colors, schedule a call with us.

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Alycia Jones
Alycia Jones
Alycia is senior designer with six years of experience in the marketing field. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication design and has extensive experience in logo design, brand identities, illustration and UX/UI. Alycia is known for her attention to detail and creative ability to produce polished and innovative designs.

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