During the full moon in March, Hindus around the world mark the arrival of spring by throwing coloured water and powders at each other during Holi, the festival of colours. This activity was traditionally conceived for medical reasons as the colourful powders were once made from natural medicines such as cumin, neem and turmeric and were meant to prevent colds and viruses bought on by damp spring weather. Today, it is a time for celebrating the vibrant colours and new life that arrive with spring. The event is now so popular with non-Hindus as an opportunity to celebrate life in technicolour that it is honoured throughout the year and all around the world, from the US states of Utah and Nevada to Lisbon, Madrid, Bath and Munich in Europe to Singapore and the Gold Coast of Australia.
Why does colour hold such power? It’s quite simple; colour, like music, is capable of evoking instantaneous emotions, reactions and physical responses. It has a profound influence on the choices you make consciously, unconsciously and subconsciously. It impacts your decisions about what you buy, what you eat, what you wear, how you live and who you love. Colour tells other people who you are – what your personality is. It has the incredible ability to tell stories and induce emotions, as it is closely tied to memories and experiences, and to express values. Colour is a language.
According to the US Institute for Color Research, people make a subconscious judgment about an environment, product or person within 90 seconds of their initial interaction. Between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.
Colour differentiates products from competitors and influences attitudes towards certain products by shaping moods and feelings both positively and negatively. Having an understanding of the role that colour plays in marketing your products is essential.
A lot has been written about the psychology of colour, especially the impact of culture, age, gender and nationality. Perceptions of colour can be highly subjective, but some psychological effects are universal and predictable.
Why is this? Colour is light which travels to us in waves from the sun. When light strikes our eyes, the wavelengths are converted into electrical impulses that pass to the hypothalamus, the part of our brain governing our hormones and our biological clock. Colour is energy, and has a physical effect on us. We need input and stimulation. We become bored in the absence of a variety of colours and shapes. Colour addresses our core neurological need for stimulation.
Colour psychology is often confused with colour symbolism, or the learned associations of a certain culture. For instance, in Japanese and Native American cultures, black represents death, while in Hindu and Chinese cultures, white does.
All colours can evoke both positive and negative emotions. Warm colours like red, orange and yellow evoke emotions varying from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility. Cool colours like blue, purple and green are calming, but can also be cold and unwelcoming. But, as in nature, we do not respond to colours in isolation but in combination. There are no wrong colours, but there can be wrong relationships between colours when used together.
You may have a brand style guide that prescribes the correct palette of pantone colours to use. But, do you know what each colour stands for, both individually and collectively? Aesthetics are important, but not everything. Colour conversion effects are way more important. You make a statement with every colour choice you make and it is detected. The question is; do you know what you are saying, and is it appropriate? Used effectively, colour is one of your most powerful tools.
Colour can increase (red and yellow) or depress appetite (blue). It can calm down (pale pink and blue) or excite (red and orange) customers. It can reduce perception of waiting time and encourage customers to linger. It can make a sales difference as people are more likely to purchase goods in colours they like, and can account for up to 85% of the reason people buy one product over another, according to the Color Marketing Group. It can grab your attention and highlight actions to be taken.
Colour can improve readership by 40%, learning from 55% to 68% and comprehension by 73%, according to Canadian plastic-card maker Colourfast. Studies also show that readership of colour ads rises by 40%, compared to when viewed in black and white.
How is colour influential? What emotions do each of the basic colours invoke?
Infographic by Plum Communications
People will have favourite colours and these too depend on age, gender, and nationality, but are surprisingly consistent.
Colour differentiates brands. Consumers instantly identify a brand by recognising a certain colour on packaging, signage or promotional material before they’ve even read a single word. According to the University of Loyola, Maryland, colour increases brand recognition by 80%. It can make or break how people perceive a brand.
Can you recognise these brands by their colours alone? Answers below!
Brands and Companies tend to use:
- Red when they want to be seen as powerful, passionate, exciting or to create urgency
- Blue to appear calm, honest, logical, caring and trustworthy
- Yellow to show that they’re fun, friendly, optimistic, confident and to grab attention, but also to warn
- Green to show youthfulness, refreshment, care for the environment, organic, growth and as a call to action
- Orange to energise, seem playful, rejuvenate, to create a sense of haste and to seem affordable
- Purple to seem rich, luxurious, creative and nostalgic
- Pink to signify sweetness or sexiness depending on the shade
- Brown to show warmth and dependability
- Black to signify luxury, exclusivity, sophistication, authority and to encourage impulse purchases
- White to signify purity, cleanliness, simplicity and freedom
Colour can influence the way we act. But, how do you choose a colour that will have the desired effect and what do you do if your brand has a specific colour already?
It’s not overly complicated. It’s about using colours in the right way, at the right time, that are appropriate for your customer, your brand personality, the message that you’re trying to convey, and the feelings or emotions that you want to evoke. And most importantly, it’s about being consistent.
Colour, like stories, establishes an emotional connection. The quickest way to connect your brand values and validate your brand personality is through creating a colour story. Scientific studies have found that the relationship between brands and colour depends on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for the brand. The colour needs to fit with the brand.
Both Fashion and Interior Designers and Retail Merchandisers commonly create colour stories or a colour palette when designing a colour scheme to reflect either their latest collection or the personality of the people whose home they have been tasked to decorate or as a way of organising a store whilst providing visual appeal. Creating your brand colour story is your opportunity to establish your brands symbolic meaning that can affect the way your customers think and feel about your brand both unconsciously and subconsciously.
How do you create your brand colour story?
- Identify your brand’s values, personality, desired messaging and target customers.
- Ask yourself, what colour or palette of colours promotes the associations you want with your brand and with your target customer? Understand the norms in your industry sector.
- Remember to create a complementary and harmonious palette that delivers both visual interest and balance. Too many colours over stimulates, too little under stimulates.
- Give your chosen colours meaning by aligning specific values with a colour, e.g. green signifies natural. These are your colour rules. Over time, if they don’t already your customers will make both conscious and unconscious connections.
- Be consistent across all platforms. Ensure that every hue, shade, tone or tint used in any brand communication is drawn from your colour palette.
Answers: Tiffany, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Barbie, Facebook, Starbucks, Nickelodeon