What Is Color Psychology and why is it Important in Marketing?
Color psychology, in simplified terms, is the idea that certain colors stimulate different feelings. By using color to evoke different feelings, companies can increase the chances that consumers will respond positively to their product or service and, ultimately, make a purchase.
Color psychology isn’t a new practice. In fact, the psychology of color began being heavily studied in the 60s and 70s. However, companies have been using different colors to create more effective marketing campaigns for much longer, at least since packaged goods manufacturers like P&G, Unilever, and the like began selling their products.
While it may seem complicated, there are a few key things that can help clarify the practice of color psychology. The basics include understanding the importance of color psychology, learning the significance of each color, exploring Color Theory, finding the right ways to blend and use colors, and, ultimately, finding the right colors for your company.
Why Is Color Psychology Important in Marketing?
Every product we buy, website we visit, and store we enter uses color psychology in order to effectively market their products or services. This subtle yet pervasive practice influences what we buy, when we buy it, and how much we’re willing to pay for it. Our perceived value of something can increase greatly if the colors used are psychologically appealing to us. In short, the colors a company uses can make or break their chances of success.
Considering this, it’s no wonder that some companies spend millions of dollars to perfect the way they use color to market their brand. In fact, BP spent over $200 million for the creation of its newest logo. While these logos take more than just color into consideration, color psychology is a huge part of their marketing and branding.
Color and Consumer Purchases
So, how do businesses without a multi-million-dollar branding budget use color to enhance their branding and marketing? Obviously, a startup won’t have a huge budget to hire psychologists and marketing experts to craft the perfect color palette for their brand. However, color psychology is a relatively easy practice to learn and implement on your own.
Start by identifying what your company is selling and how it’s best to market it. You will also want to understand how you want potential customers to feel when they see your brand. Once those questions have been answered, you can explore the different color options and craft them in a way that shows off your brand’s personality and attracts new customers.
Popular Brand Colors and their Meanings
Consumers tend to subconsciously assign meanings and feelings to certain colors. While some people may view colors differently or assign alternate meanings to them, the majority of consumers view the following colors in similar ways.
The main things to consider when looking at these popular colors are their common word associations, their preferences according to gender, and the mood and emotions the colors evoke. Once these aspects of color are understood, it’s much easier to choose the right color for your brand.
The Color: Grey
Grey has been exploding in popularity with marketing campaigns, branding, and design. While it is often used alongside a bright accent color, grey on its own represents modernity, wisdom, balance, and intense emotions.
Grey is an incredibly versatile neutral and is able to be paired with nearly any color. The neutrality of grey makes it a color that appeals to either gender, but darker greys tend to be read as more masculine while lighter greys are perceived to be feminine.
Some reactions to the color grey can be a feeling of indecisiveness or a lack of emotion, so brands should be careful not to rely on greys too heavily. The modernity and balance of grey make it a favorite among car and tech companies, as can be witnesses in the logos for Honda, Mercedes, and Audi, as well as Nintendo and Apple.
The Color: Black
Always a favorite among the high class and fashionable, black evokes feelings of rebellion, modernity, style, and professionalism.
Black is rarely a standalone color in a brand, but some brands use the simplicity of black and a neutral like white or grey to create a simplistic, highbrow design. Black on its own is gender-neutral, relying on other colors to push it to masculinity or femininity. This makes black a great color for brands that want to appeal to both genders.
Consumers read black as formal and dignified, which allows brands to use this color to obtain a sense of sophistication. Some brands that rely on black in their branding include Jack Daniels, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci, all featuring simple designs using black and white.
The Color: Red
Red can be a very polarizing color, but when used correctly, it’s a great way to make a brand memorable and remarkable. Red is a color that invokes feelings of celebration, passion, love, and power.
Red is a strong color that, when paired with a neutral, can create a truly unforgettable brand and marketing campaign. Red is a predominantly masculine color, though, if used in the right way, it can read feminine, as well. Red is said to be stimulating, motivating, and assertive. One study suggests that red creates hunger, or conjures sweet tastes.
Popular food and beverage brands like Coca Cola, KFC, Heinz, and Pepsi rely on red to convey their message and attract customers. Non-consumables brands, like 3M and H&M, also use red heavily in their logos.
The Color: Yellow
Perhaps the happiest of all colors, yellow is a bright, cheery color that can make a brand stand out.
Yellow reminds people of sunlight, joy, optimism, and happiness. That makes it a great color for brands that want potential customers to feel that using their product or service will leave them feeling more joyful and complete.
Yellow is a more feminine color, but darker hues can read masculine. Yellow feels motivating and creative, so brands like Snapchat, Ferrari, and Shell use the color to convey their ingenuity. Yellow is also said to be a hunger-inducing color, so McDonald’s and Burger King feature yellow predominately within their logos and marketing.
The Color: Green
From deep hunter green to light mint, all shades of green represent growth, fertility, nature, and health. Green has been the go-to color for organic and eco-friendly products, making it a trendy color right now.
Though darker shades may read more masculine and lighter shades more feminine, every shade can appeal to both genders. Green conveys a feeling of rejuvenation and dependability, which are great characteristics for any brand to have.
Some of the most popular, memorable brands that rely on green for their logo and marketing are Starbucks, Whole Foods, Girl Scouts of America, Android, and Land Rover.
The Color: Blue
One survey found that the most appealing color to both men and women around the world is blue. Shades of blue express tranquility, wisdom, confidence, and creativity. While men favor the color blue more than women, it’s a color that is appealing to both genders.
Blue brings about feelings of predictability and trustworthiness. Many of the world’s largest companies use blue in their branding.
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter both feature blue logos. So, too, do Unilever, Intel, and Dell. But, perhaps the most iconic blue in branding is the unmistakable light blue used by Tiffany & Co. Their use of the hue is so well-known that their particular blue is popularly known as “Tiffany blue.”
The Color: Pink
Hot pink, soft pink, and every shade in between, the many shades of pink are associated with gratitude, marriage, appreciation, and love.
Pink is traditionally a feminine color, with soft pinks still being assigned to baby girls from birth.When people see the color pink, they feel a sense of calm and caring.
The brighter, hot pinks can also be read as fun, wild, and exciting. The feminine use of pink can be seen in brands like Barbie and Victoria’s Secret PINK. Baskin Robbins also uses pink in their logo to create excitement and interest. Other brands, like Lyft and T-Mobile, use pink to stand out among competitors.
The Color: Purple
Purple, though most often used as an accent color, can stand alone beautifully when used correctly. Purple is said to be a noble, mysterious, flamboyant, and prideful color.
Purple leans toward being more feminine, with many women choosing it as their favorite color. When people see purple, they view it as empathetic and respectful.
Cadbury and Wonka use purple to convey the decadence of their brands, while Taco Bell and Yahoo! use it in a more fun, flamboyant manner. Lastly, Hallmark uses the color in a more empathetic and noble way.
The Color: Orange
The color orange isn’t a heavily used color, mostly due to uncertainty around matching it with other colors. Orange conveys energy, desire, royalty, and playfulness. Orange is a gender-neutral color, though neither gender seems to heavily prefer it. Orange tends to read as enthusiastic and courageous, which means the use of orange will help brands stand out.
Brands who use bright orange, like Shutterfly, Nickelodeon, Tide, and FedEx are very easily recognizable thanks to the bright color.
Amazon uses a yellow-orange for its signature smiley arrow beneath the brand name, for a cheery and creative vibe.
The Color: White
The perfect accent to a clean design, white is thought to be youthful, light, clean, and airy.
White is a gender-neutral color, but studies show that men may favor white slightly more than women. Obviously white can’t be the sole color of a design, but many brands rely on white to convey their brand’s message.
White can sometimes be read as impartial and efficient, but since it is paired with another color in logos, it doesn’t have to stand alone to make an impression. Some brands that use white, simple designs include Adidas, Nike, Mini Cooper, Tesla, and Cotton Brand.
Basics of Color Theory
Color Theory is both an art and a science. It helps to explain how color is perceived, how colors are mixed, and how they can be used. To understand Color Theory, it’s important to first understand primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Understanding tints, shades, and tones can also go a long way in learning how colors can be used in branding and marketing.
The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. These colors are the building blocks of all other colors. Primary colors are usually the first aspect of Color Theory that is learned. You may recall in elementary school learning about the primary colors and how they can be mixed together in different ways to form the secondary colors.
When you combine primary colors in specific ways, secondary colors are created. The formulas for creating secondary colors from the primary colors are as follow:
Red + Blue = Purple
Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
To create true secondary colors, primary colors must be mixed in equal parts. The easiest way to explore the secondary colors is by physically mixing paints together. This will also help to explain the creation of the next set of colors, tertiary colors.
Tertiary colors are created when more of one primary color is used when creating secondary colors. For example, if, when mixing yellow and red to create orange, you add more yellow than red, the resulting color would be yellow-orange rather than the secondary color orange. There are six tertiary colors that can be created from the primary colors.
When more red is used, the resulting tertiary colors are:
When more yellow is used, the resulting tertiary colors are:
When more blue is used, the resulting tertiary colors are:
These colors can be used in different ratios, but the predominant color is always the first color listed within the tertiary colors. Meaning, if the color is blue-purple, it is predominantly blue, but purple can still be detected. Tertiary colors are a wonderful choice for branding because it allows brands to reap the benefits of multiple colors without having consumers be overwhelmed with colors.
Pure color is defined by Merriam-Webster as a color of a colorimetric purity approximating that of the colors of the physical spectrum, but what exactly does that mean? In simplified terms, pure color is a color that hasn’t been mixed with white or black, meaning it hasn’t been lightened or darkened from its original hue. Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are all considered pure colors since they haven’t been combined with white or black to lighten or darken them.
Tinting is the act of mixing colors with white in hopes of lightening the original color. For example, if green is mixed with white to create a mint-green, the resulting mint-green color would be considered a tint, or a tinted version of green. Tints of color can make a brand feel airy and more feminine. Brands that would like to stay away from being too serious should consider tints to lighten up their image.
On the other hand, when a color is shaded, that means it is mixed with black to create a darker version of the original color. For example, if green is mixed with black to create a hunter-green color, the resulting hunter-green would be considered a shaded hue. Shaded colors can make brands read more seriously or more masculine, depending on which original colors are used, so, if a brand is looking too bright or playful, consider shading the colors to make it a bit more sophisticated.
The Complete Color Wheel
The color wheel features all the pure colors within the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. The colors are ordered by their place within the light spectrum, which many may recognize as the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The color wheel is a terrific starting point when finding the right brand color for your products or service and the message you would like to convey.
The Right Way to Use and Blend Colors
Effectively using and blending colors is something that people spend years of studying to perfect. However, understanding the basics of combining different colors is enough to help create the ideal colors for a brand without devoting significant time to learning color theory. For a quick way to identify contrasting and complementary colors, use a color calculator like this one. But, for more in-depth knowledge about combining colors, please read the information below.
Contrast uses the theory of warm and cool colors to help choose colors that may create a better, more complete look when used together in the same piece. Cool colors on the color wheel are blue, green, and purple and warm colors are yellow, red, and orange. Using contrasting colors can increase readability and interest in branding and marketing.
Choosing Color Combos
Color combinations in branding can be just about anything. However, it’s important to thoughtfully use color to create branding that will appeal to many people because different color combinations can attract different groups of potential customers. Some ways to combine colors are to use a color that isn’t on the color wheel, such as a neutral, white, or black, and then use a color that is on the color wheel. An example of this would be Starbucks, which uses white and green in their brand. Two colors from the color wheel can also be used, though it’s a good idea to have them be at least one color away on the color wheel. An example of a company that uses two colors on the color wheel is McDonald’s with its signature yellow and red. These colors are separated by orange on the color wheel, so they complement each other well.
Using Complementary Colors
Complementary colors are two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, like red and green. The striking differences between complementary colors make them very eye-catching, but when it comes to branding, tread carefully. Relying on complementary colors can make certain aspects of branding, mainly websites and any text-heavy elements, difficult to read and overwhelming.
Using Split-Complementary Colors
To find split-complementary colors, the complementary color must first be identified. Then, the split complementary colors can be found by pulling the colors from either side of the complementary color. For the red and green example, the complementary colors to green would be orange and purple, since those colors lie on either side of the color red. Using split-complementary colors can help to create a more cohesive and complete color scheme for a brand.
Using Analogous Colors
Analogous colors are colors that are directly beside each other in the color wheel. So, red and orange would be analogous, as would orange and yellow, and so on. Using analogous colors for branding can be tricky and, in most instances, it should probably be avoided. This is because when colors are so similar to each other, readability can be affected and logos and marketing may not stand out.
Using Monochromatic Colors
Monochromatic colors are just colors within the same family that have different tints and shades. An example of monochromatic colors would be using yellow-green, dark green, pure green, and light green altogether. Though these colors are all the same hue, they have enough distinction to create an interesting color palette which works well to create cohesiveness in marketing campaigns.
Using Triangle, Rectangle, and Square Colors
What do shapes have to do with colors? The answer is quite simple. When looking at the color wheel, drawing an evenly spaced triangle, rectangle, or square can help to find colors that work well together. The following is the correct way to determine triangle, rectangle, and square colors.
Triangle colors can be found by choosing a starting point, for these examples, we’ll use the color green, then drawing a triangle so that there are three colors evenly spaced between each point. So, the triangle colors for green would be purple and orange.
Rectangle colors can be found by choosing a starting point, again we’ll use green, then drawing a rectangle so that there is one space of color between the short sides, and three colors between the long sides. When starting at green, we would move one space over to yellow, then directly across the wheel to purple, one space over to blue, then back to green. This makes yellow, purple, blue, and green rectangle colors.
Square colors work in the same way as a rectangle, but there is even spacing between each color. When starting at green, we would move two spaces to orange, two spaces to red, two spaces to blue, then back to green. This means green, orange, red, and blue are square colors.
Colorblindness affects about 4.5% of the world’s population, most of which are men. When creating a color scheme for a brand, it may be worth investigating colors those with color blindness or color vision deficiencies may find appealing. There are many different types of color blindness, but each one makes it difficult to distinguish between different colors, especially ones within the same hue. If you believe that you may have a large portion of customers with color vision deficiencies, you should consider using colors that are highly contrasting, such as a neutral and a color from the color wheel or contrasting colors like blue and yellow. You may also want to fully avoid red and green, which are the most common colors people with color blindness have trouble seeing.
Create the Perfect Color Scheme for Your Brand
Use this information to help choose the best colors for your brand. Having a set color scheme for your brand can give your company a more professional, cohesive look. When your logo, marketing, websites, packaging, and other materials share the same colors, customers and potential customers will associate those colors with your brand, making your brand more recognizable and your marketing more effective.