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14 Jan 2020 | 9 MIN READ

The Role of Color Psychology in Branding

Marina Alojants
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Colors act as visual sensory triggers that link to different associations. The study of links between color and human behavior is called color psychology. Before designing an advertisement or logo, you should consider the role colors have in reaching the desired reaction. Color psychology in branding is crucial for building a business’ identity. Using the wrong color scheme for a product or audience can lead to miscommunication.

Color Wheel Basics

The very first color wheel was made in 1966 by Sir Isaac Newton. Why is the color wheel important? It shows the collection of colors in a spectrum that distinguishes the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary groups. If you run a line down the middle, you will see the division between warm and cold colors. Now, you can use this information to determine which colors best suit the purpose. For example, if your goal is to design something seasonal, then the wheel can be split into four sections to represent cool winter, green spring, warm summer, and golden autumn.

Color Schemes

The color wheel has yet another function. Designers use the principles of color harmony to develop schemes. Not to be confused with a villain’s dark plots, color schemes are combinations of colors that best suit one another. 

There are three core color scheme types to consider: Complementary, Analogous, and Triadic. Although the grouping is based on color tonality and shades, these divisions are widely used for color psychology in branding and advertising.

Each color scheme style has a different psychological effect on the audience. Complementary schemes use colors from opposite ends of the color wheel. The polar ends are best for high contrast logos or fonts, which would make an image sharp and clear. The less confusing an image is, the easier it would be to remember. This trick is effective in any design.

Analogous schemes use a handful of colors that are near each other (e.g., red, orange, yellow). This scheme often has a gradient effect that soothes the eye. Designs using an analogous color scheme tend to be calm but still guide the viewer towards the desired behavior. 

The Triadic scheme uses evenly spaced colors around the color wheel. It is visible with an equilateral triangle (hence the name). The colors will look vibrant but will not override one another. The Triadic scheme specializes in making each element of a design stand out while keeping harmony. 

Color Psychology

There is a reason why each color, even shade, has a name of its own. Colors have personalities that set them apart in effects and functions. For many large brands, color psychology became a large part of their identity. For example, Coca Cola’s white and red branding became iconic and recognizable by practically all. To reach brand recognition, the designs should be effective in their use of shapes and colors. 

Red

The color’s properties link to its association with different emotions. Red is a sign of danger or alarm. Just look at the color of a firefighter truck or the letter color of a road STOP sign. Its use for delivering emergency information is no accident. Red attracts attention quicker than any other color. Its vibrancy is energetic and warm, which makes it the perfect color for youth and sports products that are associated with strength.

Red was also a color of passion and love since the time of myths and legends. For example, the Greek myth of how red roses originated from the blood Aphrodite (goddess of love) spilt when rushing to her lover. It is no wonder that many firms switch their marketing colors towards St. Valentine’s Day. In some contexts, the color acquires a homely feel that comes with winter holidays or a crackling bonfire. Speaking of which, red, like mother warm colors, is said to stimulate the appetite. This quality makes it a go-to color for many fast-food and dining brands. 

Orange

Orange is an energetic color that encourages creativity and enthusiasm. It can attract the eye just as well as Red but with less aggression or urgency. The color can be found on traffic cones and safety jackets as they stand out in the dark. Orange is often associated with youth, joy, playfulness, and liveliness. Children-oriented attractions and playgrounds tend to have a dash of the Vitamin C color. Orange is a color of confidence and activity, which explains its use in brands like Fanta, Timberland, and Gatorade. Medicine and food supplement packaging incorporates the warm color as a symbol of health and energy they can restore.

Yellow

The sunny color has positive psychological effects on the human mind. Yellow is a color of happiness, spontaneity, and optimism. No wonder, the color appears in discounts and sales! Yellow has attention-grabbing properties that are not only useful to convey information but also build a recognizable brand identity. McDonald’s golden (technically yellow) arches are a symbol that is immediately associated with fast food. Another example is Snapchat, which is popular among teens and young adults and glows in a vibrant yellow. Energy bar, breakfast cereal, and coffee shop brands favoritize the color for its clear, fresh, and cheerful properties.

Green

Green is mainly associated with nature, eco-friendliness, and growth. The fresh color is also reminiscent of having the “green light” to take action. It is in famous brand logos like Android, Holiday Inn, Xbox, Sprite, and others. ‘Going Green’ became a trending lifestyle choice that is promoted by many leading brands. Some firms use the color for advertising their products as environmentally friendly while others use it in public service announcements. Green is directly associated with greenery and flora that makes it the go-to color for natural cosmetics and agrarian brands. A single green leaf on any package leaves the impression that the product is either natural, energy-saving, or eco-friendly.

Blue

The color blue is on the cold spectrum of the color wheel. It is said to have psychologically calm, serene, and relaxing properties. The color of the sea and sky tends to evoke trust in the viewer since blue is associated with stability. Water and air are the most vital resources that we all depend on, and if the color blue identifies a firm, then they are bound to be reliable, right? Although the color does not symbolize a company’s stability, it makes the impression the company wants to have. Not surprisingly, blue is a popular color for healthcare institutions, airlines, electronics, and banks.

Purple

The combination of the bold red and calm blue leaves us with a mysterious purple. The color is associated with luxury or pricey brands, quality, exclusiveness, and prestige. Purple was historically a symbol of wealth and royalty since only kings or nobility could afford the purple dye. Queen Elizabeth even forbade anyone outside the royal family to wear the color. The color was later associated with religion as rulers were closely tied to religious institutions and considered to be assigned by gods. In turn, purple developed a high-end identity in branding. An example of its use is Asprey, Claire’s, and Hallmark. Some companies give less meaning to their colors of choice. Yahoo is not a luxury firm, but it used purple for its branding only because it was the cheapest paint for its office walls.

Pink

Pink is traditionally a feminine, delicate, playful, and sweet color. It is inherently cute and delicate, which makes it the optimum choice for children-oriented products. Pink is practically the least common color in company logos, as it has narrow associations. The most popular brands that use the color are Cosmopolitan and Barbie since they have specific audiences. Baskin Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts are also recognizable for their sweet delicacies and vibrant branding. There are rare cases when color psychology in branding helps to step out of conventions. Lyft and TMobile opted for unusual Pink logo designs that make them seem more approachable.

Brown

Brown represents wholesomeness, stability, and warmth. The earthly shades are soothing and reminiscent of agrarian culture or homeliness. It is a practical, welcoming, and dependable color that is suitable for corporate firms instead of the common blue. Brown is rarely used in logo designs since it is usually associated with utility services. The color is inherently neutral, which makes it suitable for bakeries, chocolateries, alcohol, and coffee. Brown can effectively highlight a brand’s stable heritage, tradition, or give an organic feeling to the product. Some of the famous examples of brown in company logos are in M&M’s, UPS, Hershey’s, LV, and Nespresso.

Black

The color black has a handful of negative connotations that are of lesser importance in color psychology in branding. Black is a symbol of sophistication, elegance, and power. It has the greatest contrast on most background surfaces, which makes it practical and neutral. Black is a classic color in many industries. In large amounts, the color can appear bold but hostile and unapproachable, yet, some companies use this to their advantage for an element of mystery. You cannot go wrong with black is you want your design to appear prestigious. In combination with contrasting colors like silver or gold, the product will look even more exclusive.

Grey

Like the coming of silver-grey hairs, the color represents maturity, conventionality, neutrality, and professionalism. It is a color to be depended on like a sturdy building foundation. Its blandness can be confused with  conservatism and a lack of emotion. While being reserved, it has a minimalistic elegance that is optimal for modern-day electronics and jewelry brands. Plain grey is rarely used in company logos and is combined with a bold color for contrast. Grey is practical in web design. So, you can use it in place of a white background to make the black text easier to read. 

White

Did you enjoy science class? You would know that white is not the absence of color but a mix of all. The color is associated with purity, cleanliness, a fresh beginning, and minimalism. White is a traditional color for wedding parlors and natural cosmetic brands. It is hard to imagine a better color for a background to images or text. It may seem empty, but a splash of any other color can make the design complete. Some tech and health industries opt for a clean-cut design with pure white, which only works to their advantage. Apple’s use of white in its ads, offices, and packaging allows their product to take center stage. Marc Jacobs is satisfied with a print of its black logo on plain white retail bags and boxes.

Color in Branding

So, how does color help companies build their brand identities? Research showed that people tend to judge a product or environment within 90 seconds of first seeing it. 60-90% of their decision is based on color alone. A brand’s use of color turns is highly important to make the desired impression on prospective customers. This is when color psychology in branding comes into play. 

It is best not to use too many color combinations in a brand’s logo or advertisement since it would only confuse the customer or make the company look unprofessional. 95% of the world’s top 100 brands use just one color, 41% use text only, 5% use more than two colors in their branding, and 9% do not feature their brand name at all. Of course, it is desirable to have a logo in one form or another as it will only benefit the brand recognition. You could use text alone or add text to an image. Text color is also important, as it should complement the brand and style.

What colors are most popular? The leader is blue. It appears in practically every other logo or application. A close second is red and black. But, these statistics only show general trends. Each design should be based on their individual function. Focus on the target audience, demographics, and content. A design’s aim is to deliver the right message.