How Does Colour Impact Message?
Using colour in your brand communication
‘It takes 90 seconds to form an opinion of a product’… and ‘62 – 90%’ of that judgement is made using instinctive reactions to ‘colour’. Wow that is fast!
This is from a study carried out by Satyendra Singh from the University of Winnipeg back in 2006 (1). More than ten years later, our even faster swipe culture demands instant impressions. Think how quickly it takes to register a colour, compared to reading the words in a logo, or recognising the implied meaning behind a shape.
Our connections to colour have evolved through interaction with our environment, this make us react in different ways. It is not totally fixed as we all perceive colour slightly differently, the amount and tint of a colour and how they are combined with other colours, all play their part in our emotional connection to a brand or visual communication. Gathered below are definitions for nine common colours and how you might use them to communicate with some examples from our work to explain as we go along. With every colour there are reasons why it may be right for your company, but there can also be reasons why it may not be a good fit.
RED: Good: Energy, passion, strong, masculine, love, power vs
Not so good: Aggression, overpowering, hard on eye, rebellious
Red has great strength, it has a long wavelength, which makes it appears closer than it is, so is very effective in grabbing attention, such as needed for traffic lights. It causes the heart rate to rise and can trigger ‘fight or flight’ instinct. Used here in the Pop Connect logo for a networking group that was being slightly rebellious at launch, but also to show energy and a lively atmosphere. It is counterbalanced with the calmer grey to represent a more neutral serious corporate tone.
BLUE: Good: Intellectual, reliable, cool, calm, classic vs
Not so good: Cold, traditional, distant
Blue appears further away, so can feel more distant, colder, more rational, lighter blues like the sky are calming. Blue is the most commonly liked colour, so it is often a safe choice. It is less likely to provoke a reaction. Many financial companies use blue to communicate a trusted and established message. The example shown is for a financial investor. The name Vega comes from a star; we chose rather than the literal representation of a star, the calming depth of midnight blue, using contrasting brighter blue and orange to give contrast and pop.
VIBRANCY AND GENDER DIFFERENCES
There are some studies that have demonstrated gender differences in colour preference. Maybe not just the obvious pink and blue that you may initially think as a stereotype, but the strength and hue of a colour. McInnis and Shearer (1964) discovered blue green was liked by more women than men, and women preferred tints more than shades. They also found 56% of men and 76% of women preferred cool colors, and 51% men and 45% women chose bright colors. (2)
YELLOW: Good: positive, confident, friendly, creative vs
Not so good: Irrational, warning, fear
Yellow has a long wavelength and appears close to you, so grabs your attention. It can be warm and fun, think sunshine. But if not careful tones can turn to warning signals, like the stripes in a wasp. Not many logos use yellow on its own, due to the practical aspects of getting lost on a light background, it is often combined with other logos to counterbalance its strength.
GREEN: Good: Reviving, balance, nature vs
Not so good: bland, expected, still
Green is in the middle of the light spectrum, so is restful on the eye. We associate green with abundance of nature, the presence of plants means less chance of famine. However it can be too still and lacking in energy, so needs to be used carefully. This example for a PR agency is moving towards a bluer green for calm and trust, just what you need if you are allowing an outsider to promote your business.
PURPLE: Good: Spiritual, innovative, luxury vs
Not so good: Inward looking, pompous
Purple tends to appeal to a female audience more than male. But it does ooze luxury, it does not occur frequently in nature, until the 1950s the dye for purple was rare and came from crushing sea snails. It was associated with royalty due to its cost. Purple is also often used by innovators, it is unusual, so can be seen as breaking the mould. As it is the furthest visible wavelength, it is also connected with space.
ORANGE: Good: Comfort, fun, warm vs
Not so good: frivolous, immature, cheap
As this colour is a mix of both red and yellow it represents both of their values. It can represent homeliness, but if used too much can appear unsophisticated and cheap. The calming balance of blue mixed with orange, helped portray Wendy’s warm nature with her writing and business insight.
Look at the colour being used by your competitors. If you want to stand out and appear to have a difference you might choose to go in the opposite direction to the rest of your business sector. A really good example is in the airline industry, where there is a lot of dark blue for reliability, sometimes with red for energy. When Easyjet entered the market with their friendly orange logo, they expressed approachable and value.
PINK: Good: Feminine, caring, warmth vs
Not so good: weakness, suffocating
Pink, originating from red, creates a strong physical reaction, connecting to skin and childhood closeness, it can be either supportive or overwhelming.
GREY: Good: Neutral, calm vs
Not so good: recessive, sluggish, no emotion
A lack of colour suggests autumn and hibernation, and can sometimes be depressing. But being neutral it can be a good balance to other over confident colours. Excessive use should be considered carefully, for example a blue grey might balance a punchy red.
BLACK: Good: Sophisticated, timeless vs
Not so good: overbearing, cold, heavy
Black is a combination of colours absorbing all light, so can be seen as a shield. There are no shades, so can be seen as pure, straightforward and serious. It works well with the high contrast of white as in the yin and yang symbol. Used
carefully it can bring an air of glamour. GAS use their logo as black for internal communications so as not to detract from main message.
Most of the time in the clothes we choose and in our homes, we try to select colours that work together, that are harmonious. But sometimes it is good to draw attention, to create an obvious clash and tension, for this you might select - bright anti-aesthetic colours. These can help draw attention, they are really useful for call to action or payment buttons.
To build a successful brand, you need to consider carefully what the emotional response of your audience might be, not just what your favourite colour is. The tint, the amount of colour, the positioning, all combine to create a harmonious balance and instant reaction, love it or hate it!
NEED COLOUR ASSISTANCE?
If you still feel you need colour guidance for what will engage your ideal target audience, get in touch with Gail And Steve at GAS Brand Studio. We love talking colour, hues, tints, tones, shades, Pantone references, CMYK, RGB, hex values…
- Satyendra Singh, (2006) “Impact of color on marketing”, Management Decision, Vol. 44 Iss: 6, pp.783 – 789
- McInnis, J. H. & Shearer, J. K. (1964). Relationship between color choices and selected preferences for the individual. Journal of Home Economics, 56,181-187.