Marketing

Shattering perceptions of brand colour psychology

February 2021 Written by Papirfly

In this article, you’ll learn…

How colours are commonly interpreted by theorists, and the factors that you should keep in mind to use colour psychology appropriately as part of your overall branding efforts.

  • Shatter false perceptions about how powerful a force colour psychology truly is
  • Discover top tips for building a perfectly fitting brand colour palette
  • Explore the emotions and ideals associated with colours to inspire your own branding

Colour’s ability to persuade and influence the feelings of consumers has been a topic of fierce discussion through the years. 

Since Angela Wright’s theories on colour psychology came to the forefront in the 1970s, there has been a tidal wave of information highlighting how colours are perceived, and why this should guide a brand’s chosen colour palette.

There is no question that colour is critical when it comes to building a brand. Research demonstrates that consumers form their immediate opinion of a brand or product within 90 seconds of seeing it, and up to 90% of that judgement is based on colour alone.

  • Colour boosts people’s brand recognition by up to 80% (University of Loyola, Maryland)
  • Colour influences up to 85% of shoppers’ purchase decisions (Suresh Kumar)
  • 81% of brands believe their colours give them a competitive advantage (Xerox)

And, there wouldn’t be this much discourse on colour psychology in marketing if these insights carried no weight whatsoever. At their core, different colours do evoke different emotions from us, as well as their brightness, hue and shade – and marketers should be aware of these.

But, is the current consensus on colour psychology all it’s cracked up to be? While basic principles do apply, variables such as culture, context and personal preference mean that marketers should be wary of completely buying into colour psychology.

We’ll explain here why you shouldn’t become a slave to the colour wheel, and what to keep in mind when crafting your unique colour palette.


Shattering perceptions: The nuance of colour psychology

There are 4 fundamental factors that need to be considered against these “universal” truths of colour psychology, in order to help ensure your brand colour palette is compiled with the right attention to detail:

  1. Experience
  2. Context
  3. Culture
  4. Individuality

Experience

What’s your favourite colour? Why is it your favourite?

Most people have a clear answer to this question. A colour that just clicks with them for whatever reason. Likewise, you probably have a colour or two that you just can’t stand, and wouldn’t want around you in any circumstances.

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Unsurprisingly, this may play a big factor in the products you buy and the brands you form relationships with. We will naturally gravitate towards those bearing a colour that we like, and consciously avoid those with colours we find displeasing.

There’s nothing brands can do about this – it’s just an indicator that people’s attitudes towards colour can be highly subjective, so always take colour theory with a pinch of salt.

Context

While we may associate colours with particular thoughts and feelings today, that doesn’t mean we will always see them in this light. Attitudes towards colours can change significantly over time, placing them in an entirely different context.

A frequently cited example is that pink, commonly referred to as a feminine colour, was once perceived as a masculine shade due to it deriving from red. Subsequently, blue was viewed as the more feminine hue, linked to its association with The Virgin Mary.

This shows that context is crucial, and it’s vital that you don’t become too closely tied to “conventional” colour theories that you ignore any changes in the landscape around you.

Culture

Did you know that in China, red is a colour closely associated with luck and prosperity, while white is a mourning colour, rather than black?

And green is the colour representing love in Hindu culture, instead of the red we associate it with in the Western world.

You’d be forgiven for not considering these when reading some colour psychology guides online, as they are often deeply rooted in the Western perspective. But, as brands extend their reach further across the globe, they need to consider what their colours are projecting to their audiences, and whether this requires a rethink.

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For example, when a US chewing gum company entered the Chinese market, their sales were initially very disappointing. The reason? The green wrapping paper they used. Green is a sacred colour in China, so they found more success when they switched the wrappers to be pink instead for this market.

Individuality

An important reason to cut through the lessons taught by colour psychology is one of the core principles of branding – being unique.

If every financial firm chose blue as their core colour, then that would be a pretty dull, uninspiring landscape. All it would take is for someone to add a splash of red or yellow, and they would immediately stand out from the crowd.

Don’t compromise your individuality by chaining yourself too closely to colour psychology guides. While they can offer a general frame of reference to guide you on forming your brand identity, you should recognise when to deviate from the blueprint in order to express the unique personality and values of your organisation.

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Exploring colour psychology: What do different colours mean?

While colour psychology shouldn’t be taken as gospel, it’s important to understand the emotions that each colour is said to inspire in the human psyche:

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There’s a reason why blue is the colour most commonly featured in the logos of Fortune 500 companies – it is considered a beacon of reliability. It is the colour most closely associated with diligence, trust and calmness, which is why it is prioritised by many highly-professional firms.

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Red is another popular colour featured in brand colour palettes, as it is a powerful attention grabber. The colour is closely associated with passion and energy, and it’s perceived ability to increase appetites mean it is readily employed in the restaurant industry. However, it’s association with danger and pain can also be seen as a turn-off.

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Many consider yellow an inspiration for warmth and positivity, as one of the brightest colours and its association to the sun. In this context it is meant to evoke optimism and happiness in consumers – yet it is also closely connected to warning signs and danger in certain circumstances…

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Green is a versatile colour. As the colour most closely connected to nature, many employ it as a sign of eco-friendliness, like McDonalds employed in their rebrand across Europe. In other situations, it is noted for inspiring feelings of health, vitality and security.

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Orange is tied to emotions of excitement, liveliness and dynamism. Because it doesn’t carry the same intensity as red shades, orange is often viewed as more playful and friendly, ideal for brands appealing to younger audiences.

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Due to purple not being commonly seen in nature, it is often used to depict luxury and exclusiveness. Used throughout the years as a marker of wealth and status, brands employ this colour to illustrate a deeper level of quality and maturity across their offering.

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The impression that pink provides is often associated with feelings of calmness, softness and care, quite far removed from the more in-your-face red shades. It has also in recent decades – rightly or wrongly – been considered a more feminine colour.

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As an earthy colour, brown is often closely tied to nature, and the comfort and familiarity that this offers. While often not the most eye-catching colour, this natural reliability often leads to brown being harnessed by food brands.

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Black may be viewed as a polarising colour – stable and sophisticated to some, dark and unnerving to others. But it is a staple colour for many brands in one context or another, and is often considered an indicator of quality.

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Whether it’s a wedding dress or snow falling down, white has always been closely connected to purity. The simplicity and clarity of this colour has made it a go-to for brand’s who want to project that their offering is simple and untainted.

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As we noted earlier, colour is one of the key attention-grabbers behind a consumer’s decision to use a brand’s product or service. And the emotions inspired by the colours listed above are grounded in science – the way our brains take in visual information and interpret it naturally inspires some form of emotional response.

However, relying too closely to these perspectives on colour psychology when building your brand colour palette is a dangerous path to travel. While colour can encourage emotional responses, it isn’t a case of colours flipping a switch in customers’ minds – an impression that far too many colour psychology guides seem to present.

Plus, for as much as it is cited, colour psychology is not backed by a ton of qualitative research, and can sometimes clash with other interpretations. 

The conflict surrounding yellow is a clear sign of this. While it is linked to the release of Serotonin in the brain, encouraging people to feel more optimistic and happy, other research links it to feelings of frustration and anger, judging by the belief babies cry more in yellow rooms.

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Applying colour psychology appropriately

We hope this has given you a greater insight into brand colour psychology, from the emotions most closely associated with various colours, to why you should always take these studies with a pinch of salt.

One thing that is undeniable is the importance of colour in branding, and the impression this gives to consumers. While there are no hard-and-fast rules to how you choose to present your brand, your colours will go a long way in how people perceive and recall your brand. 

So, do the research and trialling required to find the ideal colour(s) for your organisation, and apply these consistently throughout your branding.

Consistency is at the core of BAM by Papirfly™. Our platform’s customisable, intelligent templates enable you to lockdown on your defined colour palette, ensuring there is no chance of assets being created that go against your brand’s unique identity.

Discover the faster, simpler and more cost-effective way to own your brand like never before by arranging your demo today.

by Papirfly

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