Colour's Importance and Perception in Branding
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
Colour. It surrounds us daily and influences our decision-making and mood on both a conscious and subconscious level. Based on the sequence of cognition, colour is the second stimuli to be perceived (following shape), and with 80–85% of our sensory perception pertaining to vision (source), colour plays a vital role in how a brand is perceived. As colour influences consumer preferences and perceptions, it's important to understand the psychology of colour and the impact it can make on a brand. While colour is highly subjective and emotional, this post highlights how some of the most recognizable brands use colour to their advantage, and the general associations behind certain colours as a whole.
Red: excitement, motion, and boldness
Can you imagine Coca Cola's packaging, logo, or advertisements as blue? It might be hard to, as you've probably seen its bold red cans and bottles all your life. Their iconic script wordmark and distinct red cans contribute to Coca-Cola being one of the world's most recognizable, valuable, and consumed brands. Coke's red is a strategic use of colour because it evokes the excitement that's associated with drinking their product. The caffeine or sugar rush from drinking a coke might also be subconsciously associated with the exciting nature of red. Furthermore, if you pour a glass of coke and look closely, the fizzy drink's bubbles will quickly rise to to the top and even bounce around before your eyes. The colour red helps to convey this sense of motion. Finally, Coca Cola's use of red packaging allows its product to stand out on shelves thanks to the boldness and vibrance of the colour. From an evolutionary sense, red attracts the human eye very much, since it's the colour of blood.
Orange: warmth, friendliness, and approachability
The pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's use of an orange logo is very appropriate due to the fact that its target audience are those who are ill, because rather than using a more "corporate" colour such as blue or grey, GlaxoSmithKline's use of orange conveys a sense of warmth, friendliness, and approachability. This is exactly what consumers are looking for in a company that produces health-improving pharmaceuticals. Glaxo's use of a rounded container shape and curvy font further suggest friendliness and approachability.
Yellow: happiness, speed, and appetite
If you were to put a dollar amount to the value of McDonald's "Golden Arches", $1 Billion wouldn't be too far off. With over 36,000 stores worldwide, the fast food giant is vastly recognized due to the Golden Arches and contrasting colour palette of red and yellow. It's no surprise that McDonald's warm colour palette also stimulates appetite. Yellow, in specific, is a colour associated with happiness; and what better company to use yellow than one whose tagline is "I'm lovin' it"? Yellow is also associated with speed, and therefore fits perfectly for the fast food giant. Another strategic benefit of McDonald's use of yellow is that its bright yellow signs contrast well against the blue sky. This way, McDonald's can effectively target cars passing by, especially throughout freeways in the US, one of McDonald's largest markets.
Green: nature, positivity, and prosperity
When asked to think about a brand that's green, Starbucks is likely to come to mind. Due to its worldwide success and large marketing expenditure, Starbucks has evolved to the pinnacle of brand recognition: the ability to remove the brand name "Starbucks" from the majority of their stores, products, and marketing materials and instead feature only the mermaid symbol. Two other businesses that have achieved this are Apple and Nike. In recent years, Starbucks marks their cups with their green mermaid logo while omitting the "Starbucks" wordmark altogether. When it comes to Starbucks' distinct green shade, it primarily communicates a sense of calming naturalness. Coffee (in its pure form) is often viewed as a health product, and Starbucks has capitalized on this through the use of its earthy green tone. Green is also a positive colour. Positivity has become associated with all that Starbucks stands for (most notably, their corporate social responsibility and sustainability) as well as the positive sensation associated with their indulgent drinks and food. The positive impact Starbucks makes in the world is something both consumers and investors can get behind. Finally, green helps to signal prosperity. People define themselves through the brands they consume, and by drinking Starbucks, the consumer can signal they have disposable income and appreciate premium offerings.
Blue: trustworthy, secure, and corporate
When it comes to banking, the cliché association (in the Western world) is that green means money. While that's certainly the case for TD's brand, RBC has opted for the use of blue to differentiate itself while portraying an appropriate set of associations as well. As the colour of the ocean and sky, blue instills a calming perception. Since the sky and ocean surround us, blue projects a sense of trust; that it's always there. These feelings towards blue translate to the positive associations of RBC being trustworthy and secure. Blue is also a cooling, non-invasive colour that's perfect for a large, corporate entity like RBC, as it handles millions of people's money on a daily basis and trades within the volatile stock market.
Purple: premium, indulgence, and royalty
Brand positioning is a critical component of properly differentiating a brand, and the intentional use of colour is an effective way to do so. Purple is recognized as a premium, sophisticated, and luxurious colour because it used to be one of the hardest and most expensive dyes to produce. In the 21st century convenience store, Cadbury uses purple to position itself on the higher-end of chocolate bars. Outside of the convenience store, Purdy's follows the same strategy by designing its stores and packaging with its distinct purple shade. With the association of luxury, indulgence is apparent too. What better product to be associated with indulgence than chocolate? Luxury and indulgence are also tied to royalty, as it was common for Kings to be the only overweight people in societies since they could afford to overindulge.
Black: exclusivity, luxury, expensiveness
One of the clearest examples of brand positioning is that of luxury brands. With high prices and markups, luxury brands further promote their exclusivity and command a higher price through the use of black. Black is the total absence of colour, and arguably the most intimidating colour as well. Therefore, black is a dominant, authoritative colour. Think of an exclusive event, for instance, that only happens at night. Or a stark black tuxedo. Both of these involve darkness and black, further alluding to luxury and sophistication. A fair amount of luxury brands use black as their dominant colour, such as Chanel, Rolls Royce and Versace. Yellow is the brightest colour and often associated with cheapness, therefore, it's no surprise that black (the darkest colour) is associated with expensiveness.
In the hyper-competitive business world, brands are constantly seeking ways to differentiate. Experienced brand strategists and designers recognize the value colour has in regards to brand recognition, positioning, and its appeal to consumers. With this in mind, colour should be taken very seriously when it comes to building a brand. Branding as a whole must be treated as a long-term strategy, because a business' positive reputation is one of its most valuable assets. ▲