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Marketing in colour: what is "colour psychology"?

How many times have you heard yellow described as a “happy colour,” or one that’s great for giving your audience an instantly uplifted feeling? Or how about grey as a “neutral” shade which is much better suited to creating a calm and balanced feeling in those who see it?

It’s said that green is awesome if you’re in a health-based industry, as it symbolises growth and peace - and blue is the colour for techy businesses because it evokes a sense of brand trust and innovation.

But, does any of this actually mean anything?

Is there any proof whatsoever that these vague assumptions about the relationship between colour, marketing, and branding have any truth to them?

“The Psychology of Colour”

Chances are, you’ve seen a few of those “Psychology of Colour” infographics online. They usually show you a few big-name brand logos and briefly elaborate on why and how that brand is successful based on the colours in the logo.

Take this one from We Are Boutique, for instance.

But, is it really possible to say that Lego is such a successful company because the red in its logo makes people feel “excited”? Had they chosen a blue background instead, would that have meant people were more inclined to see them as an “ambitious” company?

It’s difficult to say either way – mostly because there’s little research to back-up any of the claims made in such infographics. There’s no specific theory applied, really – it’s just someone who’s looked at a few colours and assigned them some buzzwords, based on ‘feelings’ they might have when looking at them.

Putting it to the test!

You’ll notice that none of the words assigned to each colour seem to contradict each other. Is it really not possible that the colour yellow could mean happiness to one person, but be a complete eyesore to another?

To put this to the test, I wanted to find out what different people thought of the same colour. So, I walked around the Fotofire office and asked everyone in the team what they thought of different colours.

These were the buzzwords I got for three random colours:

YELLOW

  • Bright
  • Exciting
  • Sunny
  • Sickly
  • Summery
  • Happy
  • Fresh
  • Fun
  • Cowardice
  • Lemon
  • Vibrant
  • Zesty

PURPLE

  • Regal
  • Royalty
  • Affluence
  • Feminine
  • Luxury
  • Peaceful
  • Pretty
  • Professional
  • Innovative
  • Tranquil
  • Immature
  • Creative.

BLUE

  • Cold
  • Calm
  • Sad
  • Fresh
  • Business
  • Formal
  • Peace
  • Sleepy
  • Clinical
  • Water
  • Clean
  • Wisdom.

Judging from this feedback, it seems like it’s pretty lazy to make a universal statement about the emotions evoked from just looking at a specific colour, and instantly say a brand will be perceived as one thing or the other based on this alone.

For instance, yellow gives me a bit of a headache and looks a bit sickly, but to most other people in the office, it was an incredibly positive colour. Blue was also quite divisive, with a collection of both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ descriptions.

It’s important to consider the cultural implications of certain colours, too. For instance, red is the colour of love in most cultures – but it’s also the colour of communism, Satan, and warning signs across the globe.

Ultimately, a person’s individual preferences, mood, and experiences, as well as cultural differences and context, will influence how a colour is perceived.

So, is there really any weight in ‘colour psychology’?

To answer this question, let’s look at some facts and research, rather than accepting the status quo from a biased infographic.

A study conducted into the impact of colour in marketing and how this should influence management decisions found that as many as 90% of knee-jerk judgements made about products or services are based on colour alone.

Another pretty interesting study found that the relationship between brands and colour is mostly reliant on whether or not people think the colour “fits in” with the brand’s industry, and the product or service being sold.

These findings seem to suggest that people consider some colours more appropriate for certain types of businesses than others, depending on the perceived personality of that business. (This conclusion is confirmed by this study, which specifically investigated how colour affected consumer perceptions of different companies.)

As an example – would you consider a delicate lilac and soft pink re-brand of JCB to be in-keeping with its service offering? Would you still think of it as the same reliable manufacturer of hard-wearing, industrial-grade equipment for companies performing construction and demolition projects?

Most likely not, because these colours don’t fit in with this context, and most definitely don’t complement and enforce the brand or its personality.

The bottom line

So, in essence, the colours you choose for your branding need to complement and enforce your business’s own personality, as well as sit appropriately within your industry.

Considering your own business - its goals, market sector unique ethos - will produce a much more effective and persuasive brand than if you simply accept that, across the board, “yellow means happy.”

Let us know what you think about the psychology of colour and its use in marketing and branding! Tweet us @FotofireLtd.

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