This is something that's so simple once you take time to understand it. People have studied colors for perhaps thousands of years. Colors evoke certain emotional and physical reactions in people, and we’ve only begun to understand this.
As a consumer, it’s really cool to understand why you're inclined to feel a certain way about a certain store or brand.
And as a business, this phenomenon can be used to create an identity for your brand, or portray emotions that you want your customers to feel. By incorporating a certain color in your logo, or plastering specific colors on your advertising campaign, you can create a simpler association for your customer to understand, based primarily on the emotions evoked by those colors.This can also do wonders when optimizing your Facebook profile, as well as your Twitter profile.
While this article focuses on color psychology as a whole, and uses logos and brands as main examples, you can extend this to more specific areas of marketing.
So to make it easy for you, I’m going to list all the colors (or at least a lot of colors) and lay out what they represent or which emotions they evoke.
There’s also a nifty image you can use as a guide:
(Image Credit: The Logo Company)
Now get ready for some Roy G Biv action.
Red is an amazing example of a color that causes an actual physical effect on the body. The color red tends to cause an increase in heart rate, breathing, and metabolism. Therefore, when people see red, they tend to associate it with emotions that also cause this physical reaction like passion, urgency, and anger.
Red is often used to represent passion and love, especially around Valentine’s Day. Think, when you're in love, what happens? Your heart rate increases, you breathe faster, you get all jittery and anxious. Seeing the color red makes you feel the same way. When marketing a product for Valentine’s Day season, or if you just want to associate love with your product, use lots of red.
This passion is also used to make a product or brand appear youthful and bold. Coca-Cola and Target use this association, as well as Virgin America. The use of red in their logos and products makes them appear dynamic and exciting; it gets your heart rate up, which gets you excited to purchase it.
Another, more obvious use of red lies in its association with urgency. This is used almost universally with clearance and sale events, to draw people in for a “LIMITED TIME CLEARANCE SALE.” Other companies use it in their logos for a sense of serious urgency, like CNN, who uses red to highlight their urgent news stories.
These are all pretty different emotions, but they all have one thing in common: the physical effect. Red causes the body to get excited, the reason can then be manipulated. You can even turn that excitement into hunger, which is why many restaurant chains use red.
If you want people to feel excited, anxious, passionate, or alert when they see your product or brand, then use red.
I’ll name some companies that use orange first, and things may seem a little more obvious.
Nickelodeon. Fanta. Shutterfly. Crush.
The common factors: fun, lightheartedness, optimism, energy.
Orange is often used to show a very friendly, fun company image. Nickelodeon is the prime example of this. They use other tools to portray the same image, like slime and the blimp. They market to children, they want to appear frivolous and fun with no particular reason behind it.
Shutterfly is similar. They market themselves as a friendly, fun company. Their website is full of nice, happy family photos. They strive to appear friendly and energetic.
Fanta and Crush appear cartoony, even. It’s all in their image of a lighthearted, fun beverage.
There should be some caution when using orange, however. Nickelodeon, Fanta, and Crush use the color to appear frivolous for a reason, but not every company can benefit from this. Shutterfly, for example, limits their use of orange so they can appear friendly, but not frivolous.
People either love it or hate it. Yellow. It's obviously associated with daylight and sunshine, happiness and unicorns, as well as optimism and clarity.
Yellow is also the easiest color to see, as it falls right in the middle of the color spectrum. This is why it’s the common color of highlighters.
Companies therefore use yellow to stand out and signify a happy, positive experience. Take IKEA and McDonalds for example. Each plant a giant sign with their bright yellow logo right out front of their store. You can point out an IKEA sign a mile away (and I do so enthusiastically every time). The same can be said about the golden arches.
These signs are like the metaphorical sunshine on the horizon.
Health and wealth. Two of the most important things in the world.
Well, according to most people.
This is what green tends to represent though. People associate green with earthiness, nature, and peace, as well as money and growth.
This is quite an instinctual connection. There are also very obvious companies that are an example of this. Take Animal Planet, Starbucks, BP, John Deere, and Whole Foods as examples.
Using green can be very beneficial if you want to appear wholesome like the companies listed above, or if you want to show savings to the customer. Make them feel wealthier or healthier by adding green.
You might think that blue evokes sadness and melancholy, but you’d be wrong, at least in this context. Blue is often used by businesses to portray trust, dependability, integrity, and communication.
A lot of blue is used in social media and communication. Take a look: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Wordpress, Vimeo. They all have a blue logo. They're all very friendly and simple communication platforms as well. The “Facebook blue” is easily recognizable, and is used by all these companies.
Blue is also seen as dependable. See Dell, HP, AT&T, and JP Morgan. These brands are all seen as reliable, you’d never expect them to mess up.
A lot of people like the color blue. It seems to signal safety, such as blue skies or blue waters. That's probably where all of that reliability stuff comes from.
The End of the Rainbow
There are so many other colors, and so many other effects on the human body.
- Purple. Seen as royalty, as high status. Cadbury uses purple to appear high class, offering premium chocolate.
- Black. Seen as high class and prestigious, especially when paired with gold.
- Silver and Gray. Together they take on an elegant appearance, as well as classy. Note that nearly all car manufacturers use silver logos.
- White. Seen as pure and clean. But you can’t really use white alone; it appears empty. You can mix white with other colors for new and exciting effects.
- White and Black. Together signify balance, a yin and yang. Wikipedia uses shades of gray, as well as white and black in their globe.
- White and Blue. Used for simplicity and friendliness, which go hand-in-hand with many of the blue logos discussed before.
- Pink. Like Victoria’s Secret, obviously signifies sexiness and femininity.
- Brown. Used by UPS to show reliability and simplicity.
The hues and mixtures of colors are also important in evoking emotion. Using lighter shades of color can signify lightheartedness. Mixing yellow with black adds a tint of efficiency and industry to a logo, much like Amazon, as it resembles a worksite.
There's so much depth to this topic, it’s astounding. Of course, while the color’s inherent effect on a person is important when creating a logo or marketing plan, you must also consider the color’s relation to your business.
Is the color red essential in what you’re painting your company to be? Do you want to be associated with Facebook blue? These are all things to consider.
I told you this would be simple to understand. And it’s so vital for the success of your brand, as well as your company as a whole.
And If You Want to See Color Psychology in Action...
And before you go, remember: “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
This article was originally published in June 2014 and has been updated with new information.