You have better things to do with your time, don’t you? I sure hope so. Either way, did the rainbow lorikeet catch your eye? I bet it did. We just can’t help being drawn in by the colors all around us. We are conditioned to notice color and it is indeed one of the first elements we process when something catches our eye. Our life experiences shape how we interpret colors; how we think and feel. Often the same color means different things to people in different parts of the world. In terms of marketing strategy, we care about how color influences our buying decisions.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of color meaning, psychology, and symbolism. A quick search of Google will most certainly provide a lifetime worth of reading material on the subject. Not only is there too much information, but much of it conflicts. Corporate titans such as Cola-Cola, McDonald’s, Microsoft, GE, and Nike spend ridiculous sums of money on branding. However, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Not all of this money is well spent or has the desired impact. The bigger the company, the more waste.
Is it really wise for a small business, with limited resources, to spend considerable effort maximizing color selection on everything they do? I would say absolutely not. Is it worth a few minutes of your time and thought, sure. Just don’t get too hung up on all this theory. What works in theory and what works in practice are often not the same. The only way to know for sure what works best for your products and services, in your market, is to test. There are too many variables for anybody to give you an absolute answer on what will work best. Anybody who does so is foolish.
A color coordinated, artistic logo and fancy packaging means nothing if people have no idea you exist. More important than branding is presence and luckily, presence builds presence. Simply being present in more channels will lead to more people finding you. Think about the simplicity of Google and their classic homepage. Through natural search, pay-per-click advertising (Adwords/Adsense), email (GMail), maps (Earth), cell phone (Android) and tons of other neat applications; they are present nearly everywhere yet they don’t spend a dime on traditional advertising. You can and should attempt to follow this model, just on a much smaller scale. This is what internet marketing is all about. It is the great equalizer, with small businesses competing against behemoths and often winning.
Recognized color theorist Faber Birren in his book Color Psychology and Color Therapy lists what he calls “Modern American Color Associations”. For example, he lists the associative attributes of red as follows: General appearance: “Brilliant, intense, opaque, dry”; Mental associations: “Hot, fire, head, blood”; Direct associations: “Danger, Christmas, Fourth of July, St. Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, flag”; Objective impressions: “Passionate, exciting, fervid, active”; Subjective impressions: “Intensity, rage, rapacity, fierceness”. Is that really going to help you sell more widgets?
If, and when, your company becomes an 800 pound gorilla; then you can begin thinking about ways to waste resources on stuff like this or you can continue executing what led to your business growth. The choice is yours. In case you are still interested in theoretical meanings of particular colors; the following is for you. Just remember that hard evidence proving that color causes any quantifiable psychological effect upon humans does not exist. However, some marketing professionals hawking their services will gladly sell you some land on the sun if you like.
- Red: stimulates appetite, commands attention, alerts us, creates sense of urgency, considered sexiest, symbolizes heat, fire, blood, love, warmth, power, excitement, energy, strength, passion, vitality, risk, danger and aggressiveness, associated with debt
- Blue: favorite color of businesses, suggests sanctuary and fiscal responsibility, inspires confidence, most popular and second most powerful color, darker shades are authoritative, dark and bright shades represent trust, security, faithfulness and dignity, paler shades imply freshness and cleanliness, although they can imply weakness
- Yellow: sunshine hue, spiritual color, represents warning, happiness, warmth, creamy and warm shades most preferred, bright shades can be irritable to the eye in large quantities, speeds metabolism, often used to highlight or draw attention
- Orange: associated with vibrancy, tropics, warmth, contentment, instills sense of fun and excitement, implies health, suggests pleasure, cheer, endurance, generosity and ambition, makes product seem more affordable, appeals to a wide range of people, both male and female
- Green: money, nature, olive shades with health and freshness, environmental concerns, suggests fertility, freedom, healing and tranquility, represents jealousy, businesses use to communicate status and wealth, is calming, refreshing, easy on the eyes
- Purple: represents royalty and luxury, darker shades wealthy, suggests spirituality and sophistication, paler shades, such as lavender, feminine and romantic
- Pink: very feminine, represents gentleness, romance, well being and innocence
- White: associated with innocence, purity, peace and contentment, considered clean and sterile, cool and refreshing, can have a calming, stabilizing influence
- Black: ultimate power color, suggests strength, potency, authority, boldness, seriousness, stability and elegance, distinguished and classic, great for creating drama, more weight than other colors, too much can be ominous
- Gold: suggests wealth, considered very classy
- Gray or Silver: associated with conservative qualities and considered traditional, business-wise symbolizes high tech and suggests authority, practicality, earnestness and creativity
- Brown: associated with nature and the earth, dark shades represent wood or leather, associated with warmth and coziness, suggests richness, politeness, helpfulness and effectiveness, solid, credible, mature and reliable, light shades imply genuineness
And last, a little McDonald’s fun. McDonald’s changed the way America advertises by converting to a purely red and yellow palette after a university published findings that they were the most agitating colors. Diners in the 1950′s struggled to get people to eat quickly and leave; often stuck with large families lingering at their tables all afternoon while spending very little money. McDonald’s doesn’t want you to be comfortable and hungry, they want you to be uncomfortable so you eat and leave. Ever wonder why fire trucks are red and taxi cabs are yellow? Studies have shown the first two colors processed by the eye and sent to the brain are red and yellow. McDonald’s doesn’t want you to miss their signs when speeding down the road. You may have noticed that Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Pizza Hut, Taco John’s, Schlotzsky’s Deli, Texas Roadhouse, and many others have since copied the winning formula. But, McDonald’s is the king of testing every last detail and so they continue to crush all of their copycat competitors!
Image Credit: Hello, I am Bruce