Have you ever wondered why so many fast food restaurants use red and yellow in their branding? Or why many corporations seem to have blue logos? Or why brands targeted at children often use orange? These color decisions were not made by accident or because the CEO just so happened to love a specific shade of blue. The psychology of color is very clear about how the color we see associated with a brand has connections with emotions and causes us to unconsciously associated traits or characteristics to that brand.
Do you already have a color associated with your business? Why did you choose that color? Does that color choice communicate the message you want to convey to your customers? If you’ve chosen your brand colors correctly, the psychological meaning of those colors will match the story your business wants to tell and attract the types of customers you want to serve.
Let’s go through the colors and explore the types of emotion and characteristics associated with each one.
Often associated with love, passion and strong positive emotion. But there’s also an undertone of danger, caution and the command to stop since it’s the color of stop signs. Red is also associated with appetite stimulation as you see with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Applebees.
When you’re looking to convey enthusiasm, innovation, fun and curiosity, orange is a good choice. Unlike any other color in the rainbow, orange seems to draw the strongest emotion – you either love it or hate it. But that’s okay because that’s exactly what orange is supposed to do. It should be a disrupter and make you stop and pay attention to what’s going on with whatever is colored orange. There are not many brands that use orange, but those that do are often targeted at children, like Nickelodeon.
Depending on the shade of yellow, you get either happy, sunny, joyfulness and playfulness if you go for bright shades. Or if you choose a softer pastel shade you fall into emotions like childlike, innocent and comforting. But go dark gold and you’re drawing on emotions more associated with brown. Yellow is also associated with appetite stimulation and is often seen as a support color in restaurant branding – think of McDonald’s and Burger King.
When you need to convey growth, environmentalism or money, green is your choice. Green can also be associated negatively with envy or if the shade is off might signify illness. Remember the warning label from the 70s for Mr. Ick to warn kids not to play with household chemicals – his face was green. Obviously green is near and dear to my heart since that’s the color I’ve chosen for Tremble Creative Service’s brand identity. This particular shade of green is vibrant and fresh and gives the feeling of new life, growth and new ideas. Other brands with the same shade of green include Hulu, Android, Animal Planet, Holiday Inn and XBox.
You might wonder why so many corporations use blue for their brand color, but when you understand that blue has strong psychological meaning for tradition, stability, and trustworthiness, you see why it’s so often used. But if you choose a pastel shade of blue you immediately think of newborn babies or a relaxing spa environment. Blue is often associated with being a turn off when associated with food, however, IHOP seems to use it well. Some brands you might recognize for their color blue is Ford, Walmart, Dell and Skype. Other blue brands include banks and Wall Street companies like JP Morgan Chase.
No other color is more associated with royalty, luxury and a sense of being elite. This might sound like a great idea but purple is tricky to pull off successfully because when you identify yourself as elite you are often saying you’re better than others – even your customers. So you have to be very deliberate about how your messaging pairs with your brand color and which shade of purple you choose. Yahoo successful uses purple in a playful way (almost as if it were orange instead of purple) but when you think of Yahoo you probably don’t think of it being a trustworthy and reliable source for news or cutting edge technological service… it makes me wonder if they could have grown to be more respected in the industry if they had chosen a different color for their logo. If you soften purple to a pastel shade, the messaging changes dramatically to something more feminine and soft.
If your business targets outdoorsmen or relates to nature or earthiness, then brown is the ideal choice. Brown also gives a sense of tradition and groundedness. Some logos you’d recognize that uses brown is UPS, A&W, M&M’s and the Cotton industry. Many local coffeehouses also seem to use brown, which somehow isn’t surprising.
Black & Gray
Black can be tricky and requires a careful hand to give it a sense of sophistication and luxury. Black can make brands look high-end and rich if used properly. Gray can also feel sophisticated but in a softer and more approachable way. Black can quickly turn to morbid, depressed and a representation of death or despair if used in certain ways. Brands that do black and gray well include Nike, Apple, Puma, The New York Times, Wikipedia and Honda.
Here’s a great infographic by Carey Jolliffe that breaks down the meaning of each color – including many interesting shades of colors along with the exact Pantone color number as a reference. Lots of great information here.