An organisation’s signature colour is recognisable at a glance and inextricable from its brand. Imagine McDonald’s’ iconic golden arches without their distinctive yellow colour. Or a can of Coke without its true red tone. You just can’t! With colour psychology, we can discover how these colours envoke certain emotions, reinforces brand messaging, and captivate the attention of an audience.
What are brand colours?
Your brand colours are a selection of 2-5 shades used throughout your branding. These colours should be strategically used across all channels to increase brand awareness. When people look at your chosen tone, they should instantly think of your organisation.
Colour is so vital because it establishes your brand’s identity. As such, it’s really important to be sure of who you are and what you represent before picking out a palette. Consider how you’d like the brand to be perceived and what aspects differentiate you from the competition.
When you select your shades, you’ll be projecting a set of preconceived associations. This is where colour psychology comes into play. The psychology of colour can help your brand by eliciting the right emotions – be that excitement, trust, creativity, optimism, or any number of other feelings. Whilst choosing colours that align with your brand can enhance brand awareness, a bad colour selection will actually damage your brand’s image. If you accidentally pick a colour that signals the opposite of your brand identity, your audience could feel confused and disconnected. A poor colour choice could also cause eye strain and make it difficult for your audience to read copy.
How we perceive colour
Whilst conversations around brand colours are dominated by cultural colour associations, it’s equally important to understand their scientific association.
Think back to GCSE biology. You’ll probably remember learning about how our eyes perceive light through cone cells. That’s all because colour is a type of electromagnetic energy. We won’t bore you with the details, but essentially, colour is made up of all the light we can’t see – leaving us to look at whatever’s left. These remaining bits of light stimulate our cone cells in the back of our retinas. Then, finally, we can see the colour!
There are three types of these cone cells and they each react to different ranges of light:
Blue – short wavelengths
Green – medium wavelengths
Red – long wavelengths
The red cone cells are the most sensitive to light, in the middle is green, and blue are the least sensitive. These different levels of sensitivity really impact how we see the world – and how we see advertising!
If you want to get your audience’s attention, use red. Our red cone cells are most sensitive to light. It has the largest impact on our eyes and immediately evokes strong connotations. In colour psychology, red can symbolise passion, anger, danger, excitement, love and action. You’ve most likely seen red used for call-to-action buttons because of how eye-catching and motivating it is. It has a punch to it that other colours just can’t achieve.
To uplift your audience, use orange. Colour psychology tells us that orange represents creativity, enthusiasm, adventure, fun, and success. It’s close in tone to red, so attracts the eye without causing such an extreme reaction, but still is successful at drawing attention. Many companies that market to children use the colour orange to invoke that sense of fun and wonderment – like Nickelodeon, for example. Businesses that sell DIY tools and supplies like B&Q also use this colour to foster creativity and excite customers with their impending home renovation.
The colour yellow is intriguing as it has many meanings that seemingly contradict one another. Yellow can symbolise happiness, joy, summer, warmth and positivity. As the colour of the sun, it radiates energy and is an immediate way to invoke brightness. It’s the most luminous colour on the spectrum. Although we have no yellow cones in our eyes, observing yellow is what happens when both the red and green cones are triggered (the most sensitive and second most sensitive), which is why it’s so bright! On the other hand, yellow can also represent danger and warnings. Due to its stark luminosity, this colour is often used as fluorescent, protective clothing like hard hats and visibility vests. Too much of this colour can cause eye fatigue so use it with care.
Much like yellow, the colour psychology of green also has a duality to it. It has immediate connotations of nature, health, and wealth. Feelings of growth, life, wellness, environmentalism, fertility and generosity are all positive associations. However, it can also carry negative connotations of sickness (if given a slightly yellowed hue) and envy. This is all dependant on the type of shade used, and there are more shades of green than any other colour, so pick carefully!
Overall, blue is by far the most popular colour used in marketing. Blue is closely connected to the sky and the ocean and evokes feelings of calm, peace, stability, harmony, trust, dignity, and tradition. As such, many brands may use touches of blue for their guarantee, trust certification or free shipping icons to capitalise on the feelings of trust the colour provides. We feel such reassurance and calm when viewing the colour blue because the blue cone cells in the eye are the least sensitive to light. The short wavelengths that trigger the blue cone cells are sharply refracted by the eyes which causes the lens to flatten and to push the image back, resulting in blue areas appearing to recede. This might explain why we perceive blue as being a calming colour!
Purple’s connotations have historic roots. The dye required to create purple was rare and incredibly expensive meaning only the wealthy and royalty could afford it. (The earliest purple dyes required around 12,000 shellfish to extract enough dye for one garment!) We still carry these connotations today and associate purple with luxury, wealth, nobility, wisdom, and dignity.
Culturally, pink has more gendered connotations than any other colour. It’s intrinsically linked with the feminine, but contrary to popular belief, this is actually a very modern development. Up until the 20th century, it was common for baby boys to be dressed in pink and baby girls to be dressed in blue. Its connotations today are femininity, playfulness, romance, sweetness, and compassion. You’ll often find bakeries or lingerie lines utilising this shade. If you want your audience to feel nurtured and calm, or playful and feminine, choose pink.
In colour psychology, this earthy tone is a symbol of nature and reliability. Brown is closely associated with the natural world and connotes security, solidity, dependability, warmth, comfort, and resilience. A shade like this is often used by all-natural brands to connect them with the earth and associate them with a warm, reliable feeling. Brown is also associated with various food and drink like chocolate and coffee, so brands selling these products may use this colour to reflect their product.
In the western world, white holds connotations of purity, cleanliness, innocence, humility, and freshness. It may symbolise simplicity or a blank canvas. Ecommerce sites often use white for this reason. Whilst it is symbolising simplicity, it also provides a blank slate for their products to be viewed upon. It’s important to remember that colour associations are not universal. In some eastern countries, white is linked with death and sadness. So make sure to understand your audience and where they’re situated. It might have a huge impact on how they perceive colour!
As a shade that’s hugely popular in retail and fashion, black is very distinct. Colour psychology tells us that black conjures feelings of mystery, power, elegance, sophistication, night, and formality. The colour black absorbs all light so it’s a very low-energy colour. When used in contrast with a lighter colour (particularly white), it energies the black and provides the best combination for readability.
If you’re striving for neutrality, use grey. This shade projects a feeling of balance, which likely stems from being a mix of black and white. It can be a depressing, moody colour when used in excess, but it’s neutrality often lends itself to being a fantastic accent colour.
While colours may have some strong associations of their own, in practice it almost always depends on the context. Everyone has their own associations with a colour, so feelings surrounding them may differ from person to person.
If you’re an organisation looking for a design upgrade, contact us today for a free consultation or check out our digital marketing services pages to discover more about what we can offer your firm.