How brands use colour psychology to reinforce their identities

A brand’s choice of colour is a fundamental element that reinforces both its personality and the qualities of the products and/or services it offers.

Some brands are so iconic that it is possible to identify them from just a single pantone colour without an accompanying logo. Others, including Cadbury, Barbie and UPS, have even gone so far as to trademark their defining shades. So why do brands place such importance on colour and what impact does it have on the way consumers perceive them?

Let's look at some research and then some famous examples.

Colour psychology

Research compiled by Colorcom suggests that consumers “make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.”

Further research indicates that brand recognition can be increased by up to 80% by effective use of colour throughout marketing, packaging and logo design. Whilst other marketing elements including the targeting of advertising and effective product copy are of importance to a brand’s voice, its core individuality and memorability could lie within its carefully selected colour palette.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, with several potential factors affecting an individual’s perception of colour. Let’s take cultural upbringing as an example: the colour red is commonly associated with luck and prosperity throughout Asia, whereas it can represent love, passion or even danger in western societies. These differences are important to consider when targeting specific geographical or ethnic audiences as part of a marketing strategy.

Personal colour preference could also have some bearing on a consumer’s loyalty to certain brands. In this colour assignment study, the most mutually disliked colours of men and women include orange, yellow and brown. Purple, on the other hand, appeared to be the least favourite colour of almost a quarter of all male respondents compared to just 8% of female respondents. It is perhaps superficial to suggest that a male customer wouldn’t purchase from a well-established brand just because its logo happens to feature the colour purple. Then again, I’d like to invite you to recall a brand with a predominantly male target audience that places emphasis on this colour.

Of course, brands tread a very fine line when it comes to choosing typically masculine or feminine colours. Using them to market products can lead to consumers feeling patronised and stereotyped, as demonstrated by the infamous BIC pink biro furore of 2012.

Equally, if the colour of a product does not appropriately represent its purpose, this can confuse and even damage a brand’s sense of identity.

Put simply, whilst there is no cast-iron guarantee that using specific colouration will assist you in achieving success with your brand strategy, there are certainly strong parallels between colour and brand perception across product sectors.
Below are some notable examples that illustrate how colour can influence a consumer’s impression of a brand or its products. 

Red


Let’s start with an obvious example: the fast food giant McDonald’s. Its logo is one of the most recognised in the world and its striking red backdrop dominates its branding. This signature red appears on their signage, the walls of their restaurants and even Ronald McDonald himself.

It is widely claimed that red is the most appetising colour in the spectrum. Reasons for this vary from its ability to increase your heartrate (and therefore kick-start digestion) to simply an overexposure to coincidentally red food marketing campaigns over time.

Either way, you’d be hard pressed to find a fast food outlet that is not dominated by a shade of red as part of its brand strategy.


With its ‘golden arches’ in yellow (typically an energetic and happy colour), the McDonald's logo could quite literally translate into ‘fast and delicious’ – everything your chicken nuggets should be.

Green

The emotional perception of the colour green is typically dependent on the shade. Usually, bright, warm yellow-greens are energising, fresh and healthy, deeper blue-greens more relaxing, and earthy greens natural or eco-friendly. I’ll briefly touch on all three in this section.
 

Bright yellow-green



The characteristic green of the Nuffield Health brand is also synonymous with pharmacies across the world. With their growing number of hospitals and gyms, it is understandable why Nuffield Health have opted for a vibrant green as their flagship colour. The saturation and vibrancy of the shade conveys energy, vitality and strength.

It is worth noting how this colour is translated across to the Nuffield Health website. Notice how it is continuously used throughout banners, footers and even tinted photography on their homepage, demonstrating an exceptionally consistent, strong brand image. It is certainly very eye-catching.


 

Blue-green



Whilst your daily skinny-triple-shot-decaf caramel macchiato can hardly be categorised as healthy, what’s more relaxing than starting your day with a coffee in your favourite squashy armchair at your local Starbucks? The cool blue-green of their logo signifies just that: it is rich, welcoming and intense, everything they want you to believe their coffee is. 

Earthy-green



Back, for a moment, to McDonald’s. You may have noticed that its usual red backdrop has been replaced with an earthy green when you last visited your local UK high street. This is thanks to their 2009 brand overhaul which was rolled out across Europe ‘to promote a more eco-friendly image’, as reported by NBC. In the article, the vice chairman of McDonald’s Germany expressed that they aim to clarify their ‘responsibility for the preservation of natural resources. In the future [McDonald’s] will put an even larger focus on that.’

This new environmentally conscious guise has been strengthened more recently by its accompanying UK ad campaigns such as ‘Chicken McNuggets’ which further emphasises the natural and ethical sourcing of its ingredients.

Purple...


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