The word psychology stems from the Greek word psyche, which is defined as “the human soul, mind or spirit.” Nowadays, we know this term as the study of the human mind and behavior. This discipline has branched out into various topics, from forensics to clinical psychology, in order to study and understand the human experience.
Over the past decade, there has been a growing interest in research on the psychological impact of color in relation to marketing and branding. For example, think of the last product you purchased from a brand. Do you remember the color of the logo? Probably yes - and maybe even more clearly than the price of the good itself.
Paint buckets, palettes and color theory are no longer reserved for artists - everyone in marketing must grasp the basics. This is why it is crucial to understand how color psychology can in fact have both a positive and negative impact on your marketing.
What is color psychology?
Color psychology studies how colors influence the human mind and behavior. In marketing, it is used to analyze how different hues affect customers’ perception of a brand in subconscious ways.
The influence of color is no joke. It steers your eyes in different directions, suggests what action to take, and helps users to understand the level of importance of different items. A study titled The Impact of Color in Marketing states that 90% of customers’ product decisions are based on color alone. Even Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed colors help people process and store information more effectively than black and white:
“Colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.”
While there have been numerous research papers on this topic, the psychological effect of colors on the human mind still remains ambiguous. The truth is, there isn’t one color everyone gravitates to, mainly due to a combination of human experiences (i.e. events, culture, memories).
Interested in the human mind? Learn about customer service psychology.
The influence of color on emotions
Every color has a universally perceived meaning to convey a certain feeling. Before we dive in, let’s give you a recap of some basic colors and what emotions they can evoke, along with common and well-known brand examples:
The Color Psychology of Blue
Positive emotions: Trust, loyalty, logic, serenity, security, tranquility. Negative emotions: Coldness, emotionless, unappetizing, unfriendly.
Has a calming effect on the mind and is used frequently in interior design and Feng Shui.
Provides a sense of security and dependability. Therefore, it is used by brands that manage a lot of personal and sensitive information, like American Express and LinkedIn.
The Color Psychology of Red
Positive emotions: Power, passion, excitement, energy, fearlessness. Negative emotions: Aggression, hostility, unfriendliness, anger, danger, pain.
Creates a sense of urgency (for example: police and ambulance sirens, stop signs, clearance sales). Red is also associated with movement such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Stimulates appetites and is therefore frequently used by fast-food brands such as McDonalds, In-N-Out Burger and KFC.
The Color Psychology of Purple
Positive emotions: Wealth, mysticism, imaginative, wisdom, sophistication, spirituality. Negative emotions: Aggression, hostility, unfriendliness, anger, danger, pain.
Often used in royalty and luxury brands to position themselves as prestigious.
Associated with excess, extravagance and decadence. Used in logos and advertisements by confectionary brands like Cadbury and Milka.
The Color Psychology of Orange
Positive emotions: Friendliness, cheerfulness, confidence, vitality, courage, warmth, innovation, energy. Negative emotions: Frustration, ignorance, immaturity, laziness.
Generates a feeling of warmth and coziness.
Several sports team mascots such as Miami Dolphins use this color as it exudes motivation and energy. It is also strongly associated with fun, entertainment-based television channels such as Nickelodeon and TNT.
The Color Psychology of Magenta (Pink)
Positive emotions: Passion, innovation, creativity, quirkiness. Negative emotions: Impulsiveness, extravagance, rebelliousness, sauciness.
Most widely used color to depict femininity and youth. Associated with hope and comfort.
Famous brands that commonly use magenta include Barbie, Cosmopolitan magazine and Victoria’s Secret. It is also associated with foundations who raise awareness about certain topics, think: Susan G. Komen organization for breast cancer research and awareness.
The Color Psychology of Brown
Positive emotions: Strength, reliability, security, safety, sophistication. Negative emotions: Loneliness, sadness, isolation.
Depicted as an earthy and natural color - often found in food packaging to indicate the food is organic, natural, or eco-friendly.
Associated with reliability, dependability and nurturing qualities. Brands like UPS, Hershey’s and J.P. Morgan Chase frequently use this color in advertisements, uniforms and logos.
The Color Psychology of Yellow
Positive emotions: Warmth, optimism, happiness, creativity, intellect. Negative emotions: Fear, caution, anxiety, frustration, cowardice, irrationality.
Represents youthfulness and works best alongside other contrasting colors such as red. Commonly seen in traffic intersections, road signs and emojis.
Nikon, DHL and BIC are some of the brand logos that use this psychologically compelling color.
The Color Psychology of Green
Positive emotions: Hope, health, nature, growth, prosperity, balance, harmony. Negative emotions: Boredom, envy, possessiveness, materialism.
An easy on the eye color, symbolizing life and the natural world. Strongly linked to wealth and power (for instance: banking, military, economy).
Commonly used for health brands and environment focused companies such as Whole Foods, John Deere and Animal Planet.
The Color Psychology of White
Positive emotions: Innocence, purity, cleanliness, simplicity. Negative emotions: Emptiness, plainness, caution, distance, coldness.
The go-to color to represent contemporariness and simplicity.
Successful brands such as Zara, Apple, Tesla and Sony are known for their white logos.
The Color Psychology of Black
Positive emotions: Power, security, elegance, authority, substance, sophistication. Negative emotions: Coldness, heaviness, mourning, oppression, depression.
A powerful and contrasting color used to sell sleek and upscale products.
The New York Times, Nike, Nespresso and L’Oréal are brands that use this timeless color to represent authority, strength and luxury.
The Color Psychology of Gold
Positive emotions: Success, wisdom, compassion, charisma, optimistism. Negative emotions: Self-centered, demanding, vile.
Implies wealth in many cultures around the world and is often associated with royalty and religion. In competing events such as sports, gold is the color that represents first place.
High-end companies such as Rolex, Versace and Porsche incorporate gold into their logo and products.
The psychology of color in logo design
What’s in a logo? Well, a lot actually. The color can even be more powerful than the emblem itself and that’s mind-blowing: Think of Coca-Cola’s red design, McDonald's golden arches, or Google’s primary color rainbow palette.
For successful companies, logo color selection isn’t a simple task. Tremendous research and time goes into choosing the right color for a logo. Let’s take a look at five brands with logos who effectively use color to resonate with their brand.
Adidas is one of the most popular footwear and apparel companies in the world. In 1971, the company unveiled the famous three-stripes logo and has since been forever ingrained in our minds. It’s three bold shapes resemble a mountain, a visual to remind people to push themselves to their limits. The color black evokes power, elegance and sophistication - qualities the brand firmly stands behind.
Chevrolet, also known as Chevy, is a well-known automobile sector of the American manufacturer General Motors. Since 1914, it’s famous gold bowtie shape logo is plastered on car bumpers around the world. Before the birth of the logo, founder Louis Chevrolet was looking for a striking emblem that would set the brand in stone. Since the millennium, the logo evolved into an eye-catching gold color - symbolizing elegance, quality and value.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or as we know it NASA, is one of the leading space agencies in the world. The “meatball” logo dates back to 1959 when the agency was first getting started in space and aeronautics business. This planet-shaped insignia shows white twinkling stars and an orbital path with a red airfoil layered on a deep space blue background. The red ‘V’ shape evokes excitement and energy. The blue circle exudes intelligence, quietness of outer space, while the white stars and orbital path conjures feelings of clarity and sophistication.
Since 2008, audio streaming platform Spotify has gained over 140 million active users with an impressive 35% as paid subscribers. Efforts to refresh the branding meant upgrading their logo, however Twitter users weren’t thrilled about the color change. Many thought something was wrong with their smartphone screen while others felt the color made them feel uncomfortable and anxious. The stand-out green circle contains three lines which symbolize sound waves - a way to connect their brand to the world of music. Creative Lead Christian Wilsson wanted the logo to be perceived as “easy, personal and fun.”
Over the last 35 years, Adobe Systems Incorporated started out with a few design applications offering a nice spread of complex and diverse software (i.e. Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat) for personal and enterprise use. The successful SaaS company has been through decades of technological changes and still sets the bar high. Their logo has only been changed once since the eighties and currently contains the original white “A” with an exciting and energetic red background. The contrast between both colors is simple and memorable.
Want to know more? Logos are not just for decoration, they are a vital part of a business. Not only do they create visual cues for your current and potential clients, they also represent the essence of your brand’s personality, as well as, build trust and customer loyalty. Not sure where to start? We’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to design a stunning and professional logo for your business.
Additional research on color psychology
Joe Hallock, Principal Design Manager of Microsoft Azure, conducted a thorough study using surveys on two prominent color-related topics: word associations and preferences based on gender. Here are some of his main takeaways:
Word associations with color
The English language had notable expressions that combine words with colors. For example: “green with envy” or “purple with rage.” But reversely, does every word evoke a color? To make sure, the survey asked people to choose the color they associated with a set of words that are not attached to a traditional saying. These are the results:
Trust: Blue (34%), white (21%) and green (11%)
Security: Blue (28%), black (16%) and green (12%)
Speed: Red (76%) and yellow (7%)
Cheapness: Orange (26%), yellow (22%) and brown (13%)
High Quality: Black (43%) and blue (20%)
High Tech: Black (26%), blue (23%) and gray (23%)
Reliability: Blue (43%) and black (24%)
Courage: Purple (29%), red (28%) and blue (22%)
Fear/Terror: Red (41%) and black (38%)
Fun: Orange (28%), yellow (26%) and purple (17%)
Color preferences and gender
Think about a baby shower or gender reveal party - you’ll either see pink or blue (or both). While we may think these two colors have been set in stone for centuries, they actually haven’t. In the mid-19th century, these two colors were not closely associated with gender. Only until the 1940’s, the booming manufacturers and retailers left a significant impact on how products are marketed to genders.
You can say “well I dressed my baby girl in green - what does that mean?” Well, there are no clear-cut rules that strictly define feminine and masculine colors. However, there have been various studies conducted on the subject matter. In fact, Joe Hallock’s study has revealed some generalizations when it comes to color preference and gender.
Findings show both men (57%) and women (37%) favored the color blue out of nine colors. Interestingly enough, purple received no masculine vote, as opposed to 25% of women stating it’s their preferred color. The least favorite colors by both genders were orange, brown and yellow. When drilling down to shades, tints and hues, men prefer bold/contrasting colors, whereas women preferred softer ones.
Color names and decision-making
Ever wondered why we prefer ‘mocha’ over ‘brown’, or ‘dark olive’ over ‘dark green’? One study closely examined how color-naming influences consumer behavior. In fact, cosmetic, craft and paint companies heavily invest in resources to curate fun and compelling names for their products.
Think about loyal customers - they won’t tell their friends to purchase the ‘pink’ polish. There are over 20 noted shades of pink. What they will recommend is the ‘Mademoiselle’ polish which is really just light pink.
Findings show that we prefer the made-up names over the “unappealing names.” These color-naming phenomenons in marketing have a huge influence over consumer preference.
Check out these fun, creative and memorable color names from two cosmetic brands:
Essie nail polish
Red: Lady in Red
Blue: Salt Water Happy
Green: Mojito Madness
Black: Outer Space
Yellow: Laser Lemon
Color psychology for your branding: Test for success
Success in the marketing and branding world doesn’t always come the first time around, nor is there a simple formula to choose the ‘best’ colors for your brand. In fact, most well-known brands, constantly test buttons and other design elements’ colors. For instance, call-to-action (CTA) buttons in relation to conversation rate. Certain colors greatly outperform others, which goes to show you that the color in marketing is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Once in a blue moon, companies also do re-branding by changing their website design and logo. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean changing the color schemes, typefaces or logo entirely. Start by making minor adjustments. Use these general guidelines to get you started:
A/B test: Divide your audience into two parts, each exposed to different versions of your logo, website design or CTA buttons. These can include varied color schemes, placement of design elements, font type and more.
Log your data: Create a spreadsheet with different measurements (e.g. gender, age, country) to see what appeals to each consumer.
Collect customer feedback: There’s nothing wrong with asking clients for valuable insights - they’re your business partners too. You can explicitly ask for feedback on a logo, or send a survey with questions such as “What colors resonate with our brand?”
Be consistent: Now that we know color has a significant impact on the human mind, remember to apply your hues to all components of your brand. These include your business’s social media channels, website, logo, and even your business cards.
So, how important are colors for marketing and branding? Well, imagine sketching a picture of a house: You start with the outline, then add in the details like a door, window, roof, and then you fill in the colors. The same idea can be applied when creating your own website. There’s a lot of moving parts (e.g. text boxes, animations, galleries). The final touch is choosing the right color palette that resonates with your brand.
The impact color has on the human mind is astonishing and simultaneously mind-boggling. Its power to convey information, create moods and influence consumer decisions are just a small part of it. In song hits such as Amy Winehouse's ‘Back to Black’ or Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ an emotional chord is struck by listeners’ ears. Could you even imagine your life without color?
There is no formula or cheat sheet for selecting the right color, and there are still no definitive studies on the impact color psychology has on marketing. Our advice: Don’t be afraid to test, be persistent. You’ll find colors that work for your brand and audience, that will hopefully set you apart from your competition.