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All about colour psychology and consumer behaviour
Published on: June 26, 2021

It is a proven fact and much research affirms that colour psychology is instrumental in defining the effectiveness of marketing activities. Let us understand what is colour psychology and how it can help you market your products better.

Colours can influence your consumer’s feelings and opinions about your product, and they can play an important role in promoting your business and increasing sales.

Every Individual has their personality and similarly, every product has its personality. Just like we perceive other individuals by their looks (first impression), in a similar way we perceive products by the colour they wear i.e, we try to understand the personalities of brands by the colour(s) in their logo, packages, or the product itself. Research shows that colours influence buying behaviour so much that 85% of people would consider buying a product based on the colour it comes in (Hemphill, 1996).

Let us understand the concept more clearly.

Why Colour Psychology

Psychology, we know, is a study of human behaviour, whereas colour psychology is the study of the impact of colours on human behaviour. Specific colours trigger certain sentiments in consumers. For example, health supplements or organic food items are never marketed solely in black colour. Here black colour may negatively impact the mind of a consumer as it does not correlate with health. Therefore in most cases, marketers consider using green or mustard yellow colour while marketing health-related product or services. 

There is an interesting observation. If you watch advertisements of any brand on visual media, you could notice the brand ambassador wear clothes similar to the colour of the brand. Brand ambassador wears similar clothing to brand because it increases brand recall and brand recognition.

We can see this not only in offline marketing but online marketing as well. If you notice, the landing page of a commercial website has vibrant colours that boost the call to action. That is the reason why top companies carefully develop a colour strategy for their product website.

If the product is designed well, but marketed with dull colours or colours that do not resemble the brand’s personality and identity, the chances of gaining assertive responses from the consumers will be low.

Selecting the right colours for the product is as essential as selecting the right employees in a company. 

Let us understand further about colour psychology.

Purpose of Colour Psychology

color psychology puzzle

Imagine life black and white and no other colour? Or maybe a life with only two colours? It seems threatening. Just a thought of it would make some people uneasy and appreciate the colours around us. 

Colours are important, so important that sometimes they are ignored. It is an oxymoron state when we talk about the value of colours. Colour stimuli are defined completely in terms of hue (which is the wavelength), brightness, and chroma (which is the purity or sharpness of colours containing more grey).

It is critical that the right colour is linked with the right emotions, especially when marketing certain products or services, with distinguished properties.

One such example can be seen in the case of Coca Cola and Pepsi, where Pepsi moved away from red colour packaging and marketed its product in blue, to claim a different personality of their product and differentiate itself from its rival.

Colour psychology is not only limited to selling a product or services, it includes awareness for a cause too. To prove this point, the pink colour ribbon is used as a symbol for awareness of breast cancer. Why pink? Pink is perceived as a feminine colour, possessing the quality of love, kindness, and calmness. (The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).

Consumers, are humans filled with several emotions. Anger, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust to name a few. And every emotion has a colour associated with it, so is the sagacity of brands.

Colour psychology and researches on the subject

Colour psychology and its connection to human behaviour is a fairly limited research topic.

Those on a normal vision of colour, do experience a vast and intense chromatic palette, with valuations up reaching 2.3 million discernable colours (Linhares et al. 2008), seen together in an “ infinite” number of possible combinations (Ha˚rd & Sivik 2001, p. 4). 

Some early studies focus on topics concerning colour (e.g., Babin et al. 2003; Bellizzi et al. 1983; Crowley 1993; Gorn et al. 1997, 2004) but there more theoretically based research is needed to move beyond the meagre anecdotal mentions of the use of colour in consumer behaviour. 

According to the study done by Goethe, Goldstein (1942), colours have a physiological effect along with a psychological effect on humans. As per his study, the colours which have a longer wavelength, (eg: red, at around 700 nanometers.) are arousing and colours with shorter wavelengths (eg: Violet at around 380 nanometers) are more calming in nature. 

Following the study of Goldstein, Ott (1979), he proposed that colour produces physical sensations in the body that are evident in an individual’s behaviour. He propounds that pink and orange colours have an “endocrine-based” weakening impact on muscle functioning, whereas blue has an “endocrine-based” strengthening impact on muscle functioning.

Few other studies have divided the colours into two groups, namely warm colours, which includes red, yellow, orange, and cool group which includes colours like blue, violet, and green. 

An appealing study was carried out by Middelstadt (1990), in which he mapped the consumer behaviour at a store. The respondents were shown the slide of a pen against a blue and red background. A positive response was attained by the respondents perceiving the pen in blue background. 

This was also proved in a study conducted by Bellizzi, et al. (1983). In that study, respondents rated cool colour store environments as calm and pleasant than warm colour store environments. 

Not only to define brand’s personality, but colours helps in brand recall and retention.

Some colours are proved to retain attention and brand recognition up to 80% Morton J. [cited 2010 Dec 20]. In another study done by White, colours are not only used to decorate advertisements but increase the attention span up to 42% as compared with non-colourful advertisements. 

The careful selection of the colours in the movie posters also suggests the importance of colours. 

Movie posters act as a first impression and convey first-hand information about their genre, though it does not solely depend upon the colour of a poster. The human mind is an amazing chamber that can grasp a lot of information about a product or service, just by looking at the colours used. 

Particular genres form a similar colour pattern. If we pay attention to science fiction, they often use a dark colours such as blue and black, and a romantic comedy poster generally uses a mixture of colours such as red, and light colours such as yellow. 

As the world is changing along with technology, so are marketers. The digital invasion has created a new scope for marketers and companies. Communication about products and services happens via the internet. Companies have created a social media presence and online websites. It is a challenge to convince buyers and persuade them to hit that call to action button and buy the product or services, without interacting face to face with sellers.

In this case, colour strategy plays a vital role, especially in digital media where communication is virtual. 

 HubSpot Academy conducted a test on a website to prove this point. The researchers did not change anything on the website, except the colour of the call-to-action button. The results were interesting where a red CTA button exceeded a green CTA button by 21%. 

Colour is more critical for value significant products or services as argued to utilitarian type products (Ogden, et al., 2010; Akcay, et al., 2011).

Colour psychology is essential in logos and product packaging. As per the studies by Labrecque & Milne 2013, the most commonly utilized colour in logos of major companies is blue, which has been linked to high perceptions of competence, stability, and reliability.

The choice of colour has an impact on how a brand is perceived. As mentioned earlier different colours have different meaning. For my article, I have chosen red, blue, orange, green, yellow, purple, pink, and black. 

Let us learn more about the positive and negative perspectives of the selected colours and then you can decide which colour is suitable for your product or services.

Different Colors and their associations

RED

The colour red triggers powerful emotions. These emotions can have negative and positive interpretations. The interpretation of colour is found along with the context where it is being used.

Colour red drives a sense of urgency, and hence it is used to promote sales.

We can relate this with the CTA study done by HubSpot (explained above). Where the call to action button when changed to red instead of green, raised 21% clicks.

Red is also proven to encourage appetite because it is widely found in nature. A food that ripes, ripes in red, and hence it is the dominant colour especially in the logo of fast food and beverage companies.

Red also seems to have the longest wavelength, at around 700 nanometers.

Examples of companies using red are Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut, etc. to name a few.

The colour red is also related to sexuality and excitement. It is perceived as an arousing, exciting, and stimulating colour.

Positive aspects of the colour red

  • Power
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Fearlessness
  • Excitement
  • Sensuality
  • Appetizing 

Negative aspects of the colour red

When we consider its negative attention, the colour red is associated with:

  • Anger
  • Danger
  • Warning
  • Aggression
  • Pain

BLUE

Blue is calm. It has a soothing effect on the mind of an Individual. Blue is rare in nature but it is one of the most valuable colours and is used widely elsewhere. 

Blue is used in beverage marketing but hardly a food manufacturing company would use the colour blue to appear appetizing. As blue colour eatables are rare in nature, studies have found that the colour blue suppresses the appetite, and therefore it may not be suitable as a dominant colour for marketing food products.

blue noodles
Are blue noodles appetizing? Source: Pinterest

Blue is a safe colour, but to adopt it in marketing a product or service, the offerings of that particular product and services should be considered.

After researching the characteristic of the colour blue, we can conclude why certain banks, fintech, and car companies use the colour blue in their logo, for their brand perception. 

Examples of companies that use blue colour on their brand: PayPal, Paytm, LIC, Samsung, American Express, Ford, Dell to name a few.

Positives aspects of the colour blue

  • Trust
  • Loyalty
  • Dependability
  • Logic
  • Serenity
  • Security

Negative aspects of the colour blue

  • Coldness 
  • Emotionless
  • Unfriendliness
  • Unappetizing 

ORANGE

The colour Orange is a combination of two primary colours i.e yellow and red. Orange reminds us of that beautiful sunset sky, or that citrus tangerines and orange fruit. It may suit non-corporate or fun brands, like Fanta.

The orange colour is not a sophisticated colour and its relevance with the colour of the sun gives it an earthly and warm perception.

Orange colour may work with price-sensitive customers as it is best suited for not so expensive brands. 

Some examples of companies that use orange colour are Amazon, Fanta, Nickelodeon, to name a few.

Positive aspects of the colour orange

  • Courage
  • Warmth
  • Friendliness
  • Innovation
  • Energy

Negative aspects of the colour blue

  • Deprivation 
  • Frustration
  • Immaturity 
  • Ignorance
  • Sluggishness

YELLOW

You create your own decoration. You choose your colour, you choose your mood. … If you are depressed, you put some bright yellow and suddenly you are happy.” —- Philippe Starck 

Yellow is a lively and highly noticeable colour of all colours. It is a colour so fresh as a youth, often related to happiness, fun, and sunshine.

The positively quality of this colour may nullify if it is not used in context, as in some situations, this colour can agitate the consumer, and so it may not be suitable in writing (just as the heading)a description about a product or services or painting a retail store all in yellow 

Some brands that use the colour yellow are Nikon, IMDb, Best Buy, CAT, Yellow, Post-it, etc. 

Just as the research suggests, all these brands have used yellow as a background, to appear lively and youthful.

Positive aspects of the colour blue

  • Optimism
  • Warmth
  • Happiness
  • Creativity
  • Intellect
  • Extroversion 

Negative aspects of the colour yellow

  • Irrationality 
  • Fear
  • Frustration 
  • Anxiety
  • Incomprehensible 

GREEN

Often a synonym of health and environment, the colour green is relaxing and soothing to the eyes. The colour green represents life and freshness, that is the reason why the seller of organic and pharma products often include the colour green in their marketing and branding. 

Imagine a company selling its organic products in black or red colour. Will it sell? Can consumers relate to what the organic product is trying to communicate? In many cases, it is a bad idea or negligence of the importance of colour in marketing.

As it is associated with life and growth they are also used to market financial products. 

Companies that use green in their brands are bp, Land Rover, Whole foods market, Starbucks, Animal Planet, Tropicana, etc.

Positive aspects of colour green

  • Health 
  • Hope
  • Freshness
  • Nature
  • Growth
  • Prosperity 

Negative aspects of colour green

  • Boredom 
  • Envy
  • Blandness 

PURPLE

In many cultures around the world, the colour purple is often associated with luxury and royalty. Many brands, thus, use this colour to communicate the luxury of their brand and appear prestigious in the mind of consumers worldwide. 

Purple is often linked with imagination and spirituality and creativity, that is why purple can be widely seen in fairy tales and magic shows as well as luxury products and services. 

Too much use of purple can reverse its positivity, making it appear as excess and extravagance when not intended to.

The brands that widely use purple are Cadbury, Yahoo!, Hallmark, FedEx, Asprey London, etc.

Positive aspects of the colour purple

  • Wisdom
  • Wealth
  • Spirituality
  • Imaginative
  • Sophistication 

Negative aspects of the colour purple

  • Excess
  • Moody
  • Suppression 

PINK

Pink is a flag bearer of femininity, also a sign of hope, often misunderstood as fragile, too girly, and weak, pink, in reality, is a bundle of emotions. 

It can be impactful to give youthfulness to a formal brand. 

Out of many examples, some powerful examples of the colour pink can be seen in breast care awareness. Also, that bold, strong feminine logo of Barbie. A secret to intimacy, Victoria’s Secret PINK, Innovative T mobile, musically progressive Pink Floyd, Nykaa is such powerful examples of using this colour.

However, with its close relationship with red, the colour pink can sometimes be rebellious and as it is always associated with femininity and perhaps is not a good choice to market male-dominant products such as beard gel. 

Positive aspects of the colour pink

  • Imaginative 
  • Passionate 
  • Caring 
  • Innovative 

Negative aspects of the colour pink

  • Outrageous
  • Rebellious 
  • Impulsiveness 

BLACK

It’s not a colour, instead, it’s all colours. (When you mix all colours you get black).

Black goes with products that relate themselves with power, mystery, luxury, elegance, simplicity, etc. 

Like other colours mentioned, the black colour association also varies with individuals’ personal experiences. Although, there is a common ground perception of the colour black that several bands, worldwide exploit.

Black is a popular colour in many luxurious retail stores, like Chanel and Nike.

Black is not suitable for brands that promote health or cleanliness, as using black as a dominant colour in marketing their products would bring reverse results.

Positive aspects of the colour black

  • Sophistication
  • Security
  • Power
  • Elegance 
  • Authority 
  • Boldness

Negative aspects of the colour black

  • Coldness
  • Evil
  • Mourning 
  • Heaviness

Conclusion

Years ago Egyptians examined the influence of colours on mood and used them for holistic improvement, they figured out that colours tend to elevate mood. Till now many studies have proved these claims to be true and effective. And many top companies do consider colours seriously.

Brand colours are the first impression for consumers. Every colour has its value. Many top brands pay utmost attention while choosing colours for their logo such as Google, Cadbury, Adidas, Nykaa, etc.

The element of colour is highly predominant in identifying a brand and communicating the offerings of the brand. For businesses, the colours should be on par with the personality of their target audiences. 

Marketers and entrepreneurs should consider the need for the right colours while branding their products and services as every colour has emotions correlated with them. Choosing a colour as opposed to their offerings may harm the sales of the company.

Many researchers resist themselves from giving assured statements about colour and its importance in the domain of consumer behaviour. One of the reasons is that consumer attitudes and behaviours are presumed to be influenced by country, race, sex, and age.

Have you experienced the power of colours? What are your thoughts on this subject? Do share your and thoughts in the comments.

References

  1. Hemphill, M. (1996). A note on adults’ colour–emotion associations. The Journal of genetic psychology, 157(3), 275-280.
  2. Lee S., Lee K., Lee S., Song J. (2013). Origins of Human Colour preference for food. Journal of Food Engineering.
  3. Online article: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/psychology-of-color
  4. Web article: https://coschedule.com/blog/color-psychology-marketing/ 
  5. Online article: https://www.fastcompany.com/3028378/what-your-logos-color-says-about-your-company-infographic 
  6. Web article: https://coschedule.com/blog/color-psychology-marketing/ 
  7. Kotler, P. (2003). Marketing Management. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice-Hall
  8. Singh, S. (2006). Impact of Color on Marketing. University of Winnipeg: Canada
  9. Blackwell, R., Miniard, P., Engel, J.: Consumer Behavior, 10th edn. Thomson South-Western, Mason (2006)
  10. Image source: Freepik.com [convertkit form=2402507]

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