The Psychology of Colour

09 Sep 2019
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The use of colour is critical to brand iconography, and certain businesses become inextricably linked with their choice of hue. It’s a case of ‘visual equity’, which is the value derived from the look and feel of a brand. Previous studies have shown that 84.7% of consumers rate colour as a primary reason to purchase a product, which makes the choice of colours on packaging particularly important, as it’s usually the first visual impression a buyer has.

As a leading packaging reprographics specialist, Creation understands the elements that constitute outstanding design, as well as the impact these elements have on buyer behaviour. We thrive on using our experience and market understanding to bring packaging to life and truly engage customers. We use cutting edge software in our colour management processes to ensure that colour is converted accurately from digital design to the finished product.

As consumers, we subconsciously connect emotional values to colours, and thereby to brands. It is considered part of the value transfer model – the business may not necessarily have demonstrated a particular quality in its operations, products or services, but colour speaks a different language and instils subconscious ideas about the brand or product.

The difference is in connotation vs denotation. Denoting is quite literal – the red packaging denotes that the packaging is red in colour. Connotation, however, infers deeper values and meaning. The red packaging in this instance could connote power, romance or excitement. As consumers, we subconsciously confer these values onto the brand.

The deep emotional impact of colour is partly why it’s so important to partner with a strong reprographics partner. It’s not enough for the design render to pop and sparkle, it needs to be translated from digital into analogue mediums accurately. This is the true art of reprography, and at Creation we make it happen. Whether intended or not, colours have a deeper meaning on collective public consciousness. But what do they mean?

Red

Often closely associated with emotional extremes, such as passion and danger, red is a strong, impassioned colour. Brands that closely associate with red tend to be seen as more vocal and impactful. Perhaps most crucially, red is a great colour for representing traditionalism and authority. Many brands that are tied intrinsically to the colour red, are leading brands in their respective industries. It has been identified that the colour red can have a positive effect on impulse buys, perhaps due to the more urgent personality of the colour. Businesses that rely heavily on red in their visual equity include Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, Netflix, YouTube and Toyota.

Orange

As a colour, orange has a lot in common with its fruity namesake; refreshing, cool and zesty. Naturally playful and invigorating, orange connotes a youthful and confident brand. With close psychological links to fruit and refreshment, orange is also said to stimulate thirst. Because of the wide spectrum of tones, orange can be more challenging to convert between RGB and CMYK format, which means more care must be taken to ensure the shades do not appear different between digital and print format. Brands that incorporate a liberal use of orange include Fanta, Superdry and Timberland.

Yellow

Yellow in branding is often used as a replacement for gold to offer brighter and more replicable shades. It carries connotations of warmth, optimism and other summery traits. Where orange is said to stimulate thirst, yellow is sometimes considered to have the same effect on hunger. Unlike other colours on the spectrum, yellow does not darken to an extreme level, meaning it’s always bright. Once the colour has been darkened it shares more visual similarity with browns or greens, and so yellow can be seen as a very optimistic and cheery colour. Many of the brands that feature heavy use of yellow hues put a principle value on either simplicity, such as IKEA, Caterpillar and McDonalds, or premium appeal where the yellow intones gold, such as Ferrari, Shell or Kodak.

Green

Green is a fantastic example of connotation, as the colour has almost become literal in its interpretation on packaging. A very down-to-earth colour, it connotes the natural world, health, freshness, wellbeing and vitality. Because of green’s close connection to the plant world, it can also imply youth or growth. Many of the brands that use green shades on their branding are younger businesses, or perhaps wish to be seen as such. Additionally, verdant hues instil an implied tone of environmentalism and responsibility. Green is a dominant colour in many brand identities, including BP, Starbucks, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Android, Spotify and the international symbol for recycling.

Blue

On the colour spectrum, blue is a more muted tone. Many see it as a colder colour, which can be symbolic of calmness and serenity. It is dependable, sensible and reliable. Brands often use blue to convey an air of honesty, sincerity and trustworthiness. Many of the brands that put a focus on blue shades within their branding are in the technology and manufacturing sectors, and thereby benefit from this value transfer. Examples include HP, IBM, Boeing, Pepsi, Samsung, Twitter and Facebook.

Purple

Amongst the main colour spectrum used in marketing, purple is subject to the most variation. Lighter purples have an upbeat, positive personality. Midtones and deeper shades are more closely linked to wisdom and luxurious energy. As well as being closely related to royalty, it is thought that this inferred meaning could also originate from purple being a more difficult and expensive colour to reproduce, keeping it as the preserve of richer individuals during ancient times. Purple can be a more difficult colour to work with in packaging and branding, because it’s the shortest frequency of wavelength visible to the naked eye, which means it often struggles to ‘pop’ in the same way that other colours do. Despite this, it often stands out as a colour that is less commonly used. Prominent examples of purple in branding include Cadburys, Premier Inn, Yahoo! and Wimbledon Tennis tournament.

Black and White

The psychology of black and white in branding suggests a complex relationship between the two. Classically considered to be the absence of colour, black and white can be closely related or polar opposites depending on the context, but are noted individually for simplicity. The two are often used together to create visual impact. White on its own suggests innocence, purity and cleanliness. Black is seen as a darker, more intimidating tone, often indicative of luxury, quality and confidence. Black and white are two of the simplest colours to reproduce because there is little to no tonal variation before the colour becomes grey. Black and white together are often combined with a third colour to emphasise the impact. Brands that use black and white as part of visual equity include Calvin Klein, Chanel, Puma and The Telegraph.

Colour is inseparably linked to the personality of a brand, which means it’s important to apply tones that support the identity of the business. Selling is the art of persuasion, and the colour of brand visuals and packaging are inherent motivators, and so must be selected with care.

The problem with colour is that it’s extremely subjective, and as buyers we’re extremely susceptible to influence. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the psychology of colour, but as certain colours find themselves able to convey specific values and ideas, it’s a great opportunity for brands to use this to their advantage.

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