All about the colours

It is a well known fact that we, as humans, have developed coloured vision (trichromacy) to help our early ancestors see colourful ripe fruit more easily against the background of green forest foliage. Hence, since the beginning of evolution, from the second we learnt to differentiate between two colours, we started adding meaning to what it meant for us. While red and hues of red on trees were seen as the ripening of fruits; bright colours on land indicated the presence of animals that could potentially be dangerous/ poisonous. According to colour professor, J.L. Morton, our early ancestors, while foraging for food, viewed blue, purple and black as ‘colour warning signs’ of food which can potentially be lethal. Thus, it can be argued that certain colours have always generated a particular feeling/response within us that has been hardwired.
“color warning signs” of potentially lethal food.

When it comes to branding, colours play a very important role in determining the brand’s personality as well as the quality of the products/services the brand offers. Some brands have started using colors in such magnitude, that now, it is possible to identify them from just a single pantone colour, without any accompanying logo! Some brands like Cadbury, Barbie and UPS have even gone to the extent of trademarking their defining shades. 

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What is making brands go to such an extent?

A research compiled by Colorcom, titled, ‘Why colors matter?’, suggests that consumers make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and out of which 62%-90% of the assessment is based on colour alone. Further research in this subject, shows that brand recognition, in the minds of the consumers, can be increased by up to 80% just by the effective use of colour throughout marketing, packaging and logo design. While it is true that core marketing elements, which includes targeting of the advertisements and effective product copy, are important to a brand’s popularity, a carefully selected colour palette can bring out the brands individuality and memorability. Above all, colours can be used to reinforce a brand in the minds of its consumers. 

Colour in marketing

Although colour psychology has been studied and analyzed over and over again, for a long time, the psychological impact of it still remains moderately subjective. Here, we should not forget that colour is an important tool as it has an impact on how we think and behave. Colours creates contrast which helps direct our eyes and know where to look, what to do and how to interpret something. This enables us to put content into context which further helps us decide what is important and what is not. This is exactly the reason why, as content marketers, we need to acknowledge and understand what colours mean to our consumers. 

The meaning of colours

We may not share the same experiences with colours from significant events, cultures, people and memories. Yet, there still lies a few generalities about how people respond to colours. Let’s look at the generalities between the meaning of few colours:

Red: Energy

Being the longest wavelength in the spectrum, red is a power colour. Red captures attention. The overall meaning of red is associated with excitement, passion, danger, energy, and action.

Strengths:  Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, 'fight or flight', stimulation, masculinity, excitement. 

Brands:  Netflix, CNN, Budweiser.

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Blue: Intellectual. 

Blue evokes the mind. Serene and calming, it is the color of clarity and communication. Found at the lower end of the spectrum, stability, harmony, peace, calm and trust are just some of the feelings your customer may feel about your brand when you integrate the color blue into your branding.

Strengths:  Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.

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Yellow: Optimism

The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating because of which it is the most visible color; it’s stimulating and attention-grabbing.It is often also associated with the feeling of happiness, warmth, summer and a carefree lifestyle.

Strengths:Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness, creativity. 

Brands: McDonalds, Ikea, Nikon.

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Orange: Fun

Being a combination of red and yellow, our reaction to this becomes a combination of both physical and emotional emotions. Orange is thus stimulatory, conjuring feelings of excitement, enthusiasm and warmth.

Strengths: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.

Brands: Nickelodeon, JBL, SoundCloud.

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Green: Health

Sitting comfortably in the middle of the spectrum, green is the color of balance. It is the easiest on our eyes because it requires no adjustment when it hits the retina. It’s therefore calming, restful, and pleasing. Growth, fertility, health, and generosity are some of the positive color meanings for the color. 

Strengths: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace. 

Brands: Spotify, Tropicana, Android. 

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Pink: Survival

Pink is a powerful colour, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Pink’s color meaning revolves around femininity, playfulness, immaturity and unconditional love.

Strengths: Physical tranquillity, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species. 

Black: Power 

Black is the total absorption of all color. This fact alone has profound psychological implications. Black is a symbol of power. It is a barrier color meaning, that it absorbs energy and enshrouds the personality. Thus, black’s color meaning is symbolic of mystery, power, elegance, and sophistication.

Strengths: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance. 

Chanel, Adidas, Blackberry.

White: Purity

Where black is the absorption of all light and the embodiment of all color, white is the reflection and absence. For this reason, it has long been a symbol of purity and innocence. It is the most minimal of all the colors, white is used to inject a heightened perception of space.

Strengths:  Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanliness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency. 

Brands: Apple, Audi, Wikipedia

Big brands become successful because they tend to pay attention to minor details and work on them from the initial stages. They develop on them and make them better. So, it is not enough to just know what kind of response a certain colour generates in the minds of consumers, we also need to apply it practically for the brand to become successful.

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Faber Birren, a colour researcher and author of ‘Color Psychology and Color Therapy’ found that bright lights and colours encourage ‘big muscle’ activities whereas softer and deeper colours promoted better mental and visual tasks. According to his study, he discovered that the colour red tends to stimulate our nervous system while blue tends to relax it. Red and hues of red also causes people to overestimate the passage of time while cooler colours like blue and green had a reverse effect. Nowadays, a number of fast-food restaurants are using the colour red in their design. This helps them stimulate the appetite of their customers. The yellow colour is also employed to grab customers’ attention, increase their appetite and encourage them to eat. On the other hand, fine dining restaurants are using cooler colours to calm and relax their customers. Taking their customers to a comfortable state, such restaurants increase the likelihood of their customers lingering for longer durations. Lingering for longer durations, in turn, ensures customers ordering larger meals, more drinks, and more desserts! Thus, it results in more sales. Excessive use of blue, however, has been seen to act as an appetite suppressant. There are now diets suggesting eating out of blue plates as an effective weight loss method. So, blue can be used in places featuring all-you-can-eat styles and at diners that offer buffet at a flat rate. In such situations, the colour blue can help save the restaurant by reducing the consumption by its consumers. This in turn will lower costs and increase the benefits of the restaurant. 

All-in-all, it is not just how a colour can fit into your brand but also how effectively you can utilise a colour to help build your brand. A study called ‘The Interactive Effects of Colors’ looks into the role colours play in branding. The research found that the relationship between the effectiveness of colours for a brand depends on the purchasers and whether they feel that the colour being used by the brand is appropriate for what the brand represents. The main question, ‘did the brand fit what it sold?’ is what all consumers want an answer to, visually. There are several studies done which shows similar findings. A study called ‘Exciting Red and Competent Blue’ also documents that it is always less about the colour itself and more about whether the colour fits the brand, thereby making the brand trustworthy. Here, it again becomes important to once again mention the crucial role of contrast. Colours not only make us feel a certain way but also creates contrast which enables items or elements of a product to ‘stand out’. A psychological principle called the ‘Isolation effect’ states that an item which stands out like a sore thumb is more likely to be remembered and recalled.

So, what we can take back from this article is that, although few colours have inherent meanings and trait that may have been hardwired in our brains, evenstill, it ultimately depends on how we employ the colours in our brand and whether it suits the personality of the brand. Furthermore, it is also important that you use your brand colours to effectively generate contrast in your products. Hence, the most important objective of upcoming brands is to find colours that align with the brand and then choose colours that accents and creates high contrast. Colours, when chosen wisely, can have a great impact on the overall user experience with the brand. So go open that colour wheel and get started with that colour palette right away!