Did you know that both men and women cite blue as their favorite color?
According to a study by Joe Hallock, blue—even though traditionally viewed as a more masculine color—is preferred by the general population. Have you ever also wondered why some of the most well-known companies use blue as their dominant color? Think Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. And, why do so many fast food companies include red and yellow in their branding? McDonald’s, Burger King, In-N-Out Burger—they all do it.
It’s no secret that color plays a significant role in our preferences and daily decision-making. So, if you’d like to know why those golden arches are so alluring, or even why you should think twice about choosing gray for your logo, let me take you further into the fascinating world of color psychology.
Color associations: an overview
If I walk into a room that is decorated in a bold red, I instantly feel my senses heightening, and I instinctively am more aware of what’s going on around me. The complete opposite happens in a green or white space. I find myself relaxing and there’s a reassuring sense of calm. As part of her Colour Affects System, Angela Wright refers to the psychological properties of colors and whether they relate to the body, the mind, the emotions, or a combination of the three:
According to Wright, red is a physical color and promotes courage, strength, warmth, energy, and excitement. On the downside, it can also be seen as aggressive, attention-seeking, and fiery.
You’re driving along and you see a red traffic signal or stop sign in front of you, what do you do? How many times have you seen a fire truck go past and your pulse has started racing? Red is a stimulant and is highly effective in making us act and react quickly in emergency situations.
Best for: Beating the competition
A study conducted in the U.K. found that soccer teams that play in red are more successful than those that don’t. Experts believe that the color red makes the wearer more confident. The person viewing them sees the wearer as dominant, therefore having a negative effect on performance.
Worst for: Keeping your cool
As a stimulating color, red can contribute to heart palpitations and elevated blood pressure. If you are already in a stressful situation such as a high-stakes meeting, wearing red may exacerbate any negative effects of your natural fight-or-flight response.
Blue plays to our intellect and is associated with trust, efficiency, serenity, logic, and reflection. The most popular color in the world, blue is mentally calming and stimulates clear thought and concentration. Unlike red, blue is a color of the mind, but have you ever stepped into a room painted blue and physically felt cold? Despite its popularity, blue can be seen as unfriendly, aloof, and lacking emotion.
Best for: Productivity
A soothing color, blue helps open the mind to new ideas and assists in maintaining focus. Perhaps this is why so many offices choose blue tones for their office spaces, to keep their employees on task.
Worst for: Sleep
Researchers have found that blue light has the strongest wavelength for suppressing the sleep hormone, melatonin. The advice? Avoid using screen-based devices close to bedtime, especially if you find it difficult to fall asleep.
Yellow is an emotional color and its positive effects include enhancement of optimism, confidence, self-esteem, emotional strength, and creativity. However, yellow is the strongest color psychologically, and it can cause irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, and depression if the wrong tone is used.
Best for: Working out
Give yourself an energy boost by opting for workout gear with a yellow hue. You may find you push harder, run faster, and feel better just by making brighter choices.
Worst for: Avoiding fast food
Often paired with red, yellow creates feelings of happiness and joy, so the combination of the two colors makes us want to eat yummy food, now! Yellow is also the easiest color to see in the daylight. Hello, McDonald’s.
Green is seen as a balanced color and creates harmony, balance, rest, reassurance, and peace. A combination of yellow and blue, green creates equilibrium between the head and the heart. Green is easy for the eye to adjust to, so it is a good color to have as a background on your computer screen.
Green may renew and restore, but there is a downside to being such a laid-back color: Green can be perceived as boring and uninspiring. It is also the color associated with money, greed, and jealousy. Beware the green-eyed monster!
Best for: Relaxation
Being the most balanced color, green is the natural choice for rejuvenation and calm. If you are a budding yogi, try incorporating green into your practice. Opt for a green yoga mat, or wear something green.
Worst for: Creativity
It’s no coincidence that some artistic people wear flamboyant and bright colors. Stimulating colors such as red, orange and yellow may just help get those creative juices flowing.
Orange is a “fun” color and—being a combination of red and yellow—is stimulating. Similar to red, the use of orange exudes competitiveness and confidence, but with a youthful streak. For this reason, orange is incorporated into many designs targeted at a younger audience, including Nickelodeon and Fanta.
Best for: Creating buzz
If you have a new product or generally want to create a sense of urgency among your customers, orange is less aggressive than red but still induces impulsiveness. For this reason, orange is a popular marketing choice and may lead to higher conversion rates.
Worst for: Conveying serious messages
Viewed as a light-hearted and whimsical color, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid using orange if you need to have a serious tone of voice in your corporate branding or messaging.
And finally, the drab award goes to…
Yes, you guessed it—gray. It really is as dull and boring as it looks. It is psychologically neutral and its use demonstrates a lack of confidence and can be quite suppressive. It may be time to ditch the gray work attire and opt for stronger hues. Even black is a better choice as it conveys sophistication, efficiency, and substance.
For more on color and its associations, you can read about the psychological properties of the eleven basic colors at the Colour Affects website.
Why color associations are not black and white
The associations we make with color are often based on learned behaviors and what is generally accepted in our culture.
In the Western world, white is primarily associated with happiness, purity, and new life, while black conjures up images of sadness, evil, and death. The white dress is a staple of a Western wedding, but in China, white is the color of mourning and death—so it would be a highly inappropriate wedding choice!
Using color in business branding
Wherever we go, we are surrounded by advertising designed to entice us to buy a product or service. Armed with the knowledge of common color associations, marketing professionals carefully consider how a particular color—or a combination of colors—will resonate with a company’s customer base.
According to research compiled by web design and marketing company WebPageFX, people make a subconscious judgment about a product within the first 90 seconds of viewing it. In fact, almost 85 percent of consumers cite color as the primary reason they buy a particular product, and ads in color are read up to 42 percent more often than the same ads in black and white.
The Logo Company put together the Color Emotion Guide, an infographic showing the main color schemes used by a range of companies, and the emotions each color arouses. It comes as no surprise that nature-related corporations such as John Deere, Animal Planet, and Whole Foods Market use green as the dominant color. Traditionally a royal color, purple continues to reign supreme in corporate branding. Cadbury, Hallmark, and Yahoo! all chose purple in their branding, to convey a feeling of luxury, sensuality, and mystery.
Have you ever considered why people are drawn to some companies but avoid others? It may be as simple as the color scheme used and whether or not consumers feel the color is compatible with what they’re searching for emotionally.
Brand recognition and image
Some well-known brands have used color so cleverly, to the point that they are easily recognizable just by the color of their logo. Think Tiffany blue, UPS brown, and Coca-Cola red. These companies have a color trademark that prohibits others from using those particular hues if they’re intended for similar products.
Coca-Cola may well have made a name for itself with an iconic color, but the company has also employed marketing strategies to differentiate its products. Coca-Cola Life incorporates green into its packaging, giving the impression that the drink is healthy and made from natural ingredients. (In fact, it isn’t—the beverage only has 35 percent less sugar than its calorie-laden counterpart, and contains artificial additives.) This is a prime example where not using the recognizable color works to a company’s advantage.
Be influential through your color choices
Now that you know the associations we make with particular colors and how they play a major part in corporate branding, why not try to influence how people respond to your brand with some smart color choices of your own?
Let me know how your color selections have had an effect, either positive or negative, by leaving us a comment below.