The Rainbow Connection
Perception is everything—color matters, especially in marketing.
From the moment we see a logo, ad, billboard, or sign we instantly make assumptions about that product or company and how we feel about it. What’s often the driving force behind these assumptions? Color.
Research shows that color selection plays an important role in how we form those important first impressions of a brand. According to KISSmetrics, we make subconscious decisions about a product within 90 seconds of viewing—about 90% of that judgment is based on color alone.
The psychology of color suggests that our brains associate different meanings and emotions with different shades, which we then associate with what we’re reading or seeing.
Some basic color associations are:
Danger, excitement, passion, speed, anger; often used to increase appetite (ex: Coca-Cola or McDonald’s) or symbolize passion or love
Safety, tranquility, trust, knowledge, boredom; often used to represent calmness or serenity (think healthcare), increase productivity, or establish a sense of security and trust (ex: Facebook or American Express)
Friendly, optimism, youth, caution; often used to grab attention, encourage communication, and increase cheerfulness (ex: Ikea or Nikon)
Growth, balance, nature, refreshment, envy; creates a relaxed or calming feeling in marketing (ex: Whole Foods)
Invigoration, liveliness, immaturity, energy; in marketing, orange often signifies aggression and influences impulsive buyers (ex: Home Depot or Harley-Davidson)
Femininity, warmth, softness, compassion; often used to promote feminine cosmetics, fashion, and beauty (ex: Victoria’s Secret)
Royalty, wisdom, respect, problem-solving; often used to promote beauty or anti-aging products (ex: Aussie)
Wholesome, dirty, earthiness, toughness; often used in food packaging to signify the food is natural or earthy, or to create a stable, grounded sense of orderliness or convention (ex: Hershey’s or UPS)
Formality, sophistication, mystery, power; often used to sell sleek or luxury items or to create a sterile or institutionalized feeling in store
Purity, virtue, clarity, cleanliness; used mostly to add breathing space, create contrast, or spark creativity
Impartiality, maturity, intellect, compromise; often used for modern and sophisticated technology or luxury brands (ex: WordPress or Apple)
Every day color subconsciously impacts the decisions we make—and the brands you interact with know this. It’s no coincidence that fast-food companies often combine red and yellow (to symbolize speed and hunger), or that healthcare organizations usually stick with blues (to promote a sense of calm and safety). Industries targeting female customers will often use pinks and purples, and technology companies usually focus on blacks and whites to promote sleekness and luxury.
We can even see this repeated in nature. For example, poisonous frogs are naturally vibrant to warn off predators from eating them. Their color is loud and noticeable in a way that other animals associate with danger.
So, what does this mean for color in marketing?
Well, knowing that color plays such a huge role in perception means the color choices we make in branding will directly impact the way our audience interacts with our marketing. Picking the right colors will yield more positive associations with your brand—and better results!
Our graphic designers are constantly thinking about color psychology for our clients’ marketing materials. We asked a few of them about their color process. Here’s what they said.
“I use color to relay feeling and tone to the intended audience. For example, if I’m trying to convey a more natural, outdoorsy feeling, I’d use muted tones of greens, blues, and browns. If I’m working on something that has a positive tone, I’d stick with a light ‘friendly’ color palette. I also use color for contrast. In my opinion, a good color palette not only compliments other elements but also offers a good variation of tints, shades, hues, etc. for contrast.”
Ellen Wetzel, Middleweight Designer
“Often I use color to support the visuals. If we’re going for a bold look, I might push the colors to neon. If we’re going for a more minimalist look, I might embrace white space to tell the story and drop in subtle touches of color to help pop type or geometric shapes within the design…Red for example is such a dynamic color that it demands your attention. It can be aggressive in nature but also speaks to passion and love. That’s the power of color.”
Trevor Karnofski, Art Director
“I find that I tend to lean toward calming and more muted colors. I’ve been trying to breakout into brighter and more exciting colors lately, and it’s fun to try to figure out what colors will go together and cause certain emotions. I always have my go-to colors that I believe represent certain clients/businesses. For example, green = nature, blue = healthcare, energy = yellow, etc.”
Shannon Fillipelli, Junior Designer
“On creative projects I typically start with word lists, and those often set the tone/mood for the piece. For example, a word list I made for a recent annual report included the words agriculture, country, and rural. From those words, I gathered that my design should have warm, earthy tones.”
Chelsea Schonhaut, Multimedia Designer
“I generally start with the overall feel of the piece and go from there. Whether or not it’s to grab someone’s attention for an ad, or create a certain feeling with the audience, I’ll go with the colors that best suit the general feeling of the piece as a whole. I usually like to have one or two options from both warm and cool colors as well as a neutral color to use throughout the design.”
Alex Lemon, Junior Designer
“I think about the end user who will experience the piece. Who are they? What are they into? What do they respond to? That helps develop the mood of the piece and color plays a huge role in that. I also think about how different colors will react with one another. Will this color combination elicit an energetic response? Or more peaceful and relaxed? Personally, I prefer to experiment with unexpected color schemes and push boundaries where I can. Maroon and mint? Heck yes. Lemon and persimmon? Please do!”
Jenna Zelkowski, Art Director
“It all depends on the context for me. For example, I might use green to portray freshness, nature, or a sense of welcome, but I would stay away from it if it involves food. Green can also be associated with rotten things or illness, which is not very appealing. I like using red to show passion, love, or aggressiveness, but I wouldn’t use it to paint a whole room, which may cause stress or a sense of discomfort. I’m amazed at how color can change the perspective of a person subconsciously.”
Pedro Madera, Junior Designer