The psychology behind brand colour selection.
What do brand colours say about you?
There’s a good chance you won’t remember green ketchup. Surprise, surprise, it never really took off.
While we can blame marketing or the recipe, the simple fact is that people don’t like food that looks the wrong colour. Green is the colour of vegetables, snooker tables, and slime. Ketchup is supposed to be red.
Colour choice applies to far more than just our food though. The colours you use can have a big impact on how people perceive your brand. Colours steer emotions and can encourage (or discourage) people from engaging with you.
There are a huge number of factors involved in colour psychology, from the person’s gender to the ambient lighting. You can’t really generalise about what a colour means to a specific individual. But when you’re developing your brand’s visual identity, you need to start somewhere. Here are some things to consider when looking at brand colours.
Today, we’re more likely to associate white with modern technology. Apple, Sony and Tesla use it to give their brands a clean, sophisticated, efficient look. For digital use also consider off-whites, as these are both less harsh on the user’s eye, and impact battery life.
A very popular colour for leading brands around the world, red says energy and passion. It’s a colour that grabs your attention and shows confidence. Big brands using red include Coca Cola, Netflix, and Virgin.
Orange can be friendly and fun — Nickelodeon, for example. But it can also seem cheap, so use it wisely. Some brands, like easyJet, use the sense of cheapness to great effect, but using it as a primary colour could be risky for others.
Yellow helps brands stand out. Think IKEA, Veuve Cliquot, or JCB. Mailchimp use the optimistic angle well, giving users the impression that their marketing email will be a great success. Yellow is often used along with black for contrast — think carefully about how you’ll use it to avoid colours looking washed out.
— Good taste
A great choice for environmental brands or organisations who want to seem healthy or relaxed (Whole Foods or Starbucks, for example). While not quite as vibrant and exciting as some other colours, it’s still a powerful choice.
Blue can be quite a serious colour, with dark shades especially popular in finance. Companies like Barclays, PayPal, and American Express use it as their primary colour. However, it can seem a bit unfriendly. Lighter shades (like Skype, for example) can take the serious edge off.
Many brands that are aimed mostly at women use pink as their primary colour. Victoria’s Secret and Cosmopolitan are two well-known examples. Pink doesn’t have to just be feminine though, it can also suggest fun and youthfulness.
Many brands use purple as their primary colour. Cadbury’s is perhaps the best-known example in the UK — they even have a Pantone colour named after them, 2685C Cadbury Purple.
Different shades of purple can say different things. Lighter can express tenderness or romance, darker can show luxury. Rich purple shades have evoked royalty for centuries — it was traditionally one of the rarest dyes.
Brown is the perfect fit for a brand like UPS that wants to be seen as secure and dependable. However, it can seem quite dark and probably won’t be the right choice if you want to look modern and energetic. As lots of people’s least favourite colour, it’s not used by many companies.
Brands like Chanel make use of black’s sophistication. Many brands in the luxury sector opt for black, for good reason. However, the feeling of grief the colour can invoke means it’s not suitable for every industry. As with white, consider using modified blacks rather than pure for digital use.
Developing your palette
You won’t have just one brand colour. Even if your logo and imagery is red, for example, at the very least you’ll need a background to put those against. So as well as your primary colour, you need to think about the rest of your palette. It’s also important to consider the roles palette colours will play.
Besides psychological implications, there are practical factors you should take into account too. Without enough contrast, for example, you’ll run into accessibility issues. Be mindful when selecting Pantone colours, make sure you consider their appearance in digital applications, as many brands produce more digital assets than print.
We might be biased, but we think it’s essential you consult with professional designers early on. Don’t let your team get wedded to an idea only to realise when it’s too late that it won’t work for your brand, or sends the wrong message. Colour choice is very important, it’s a science and an art, so give it the consideration it deserves!