The Psychology and Theory of Colors in Marketing, Branding, and Visual Identity

A business guide to color psychology and theory for creating a visual identity, advertising strategies, and marketing campaigns

People often associate color with specific situations, like wearing black to a funeral, decorating with color palettes for special occasions, and bringing red roses to a loved one. Color plays a vital role in people’s ability to express emotion. Colors can communicate how we feel, unite us with others, and even lift our spirits.

Color psychology is a study that uses color theory to understand the different meanings, connotations, and psychological effects colors can have on people.

The study is frequently used in advertising and plays an essential role in conveying a brand’s message. Colors can evoke subconscious emotions that inspire, excite, and soothe. Colors can even raise or lower body temperatures and increase or decrease appetites.

Color psychology is one of the essential evaluations a business should use when marketing, branding, or creating a visual identity.

The History of Color Theory

In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton began experimenting with sunlight and prisms. He discovered that when clear white light passes through a prism, it separates into seven visible colors, each having its own defining wavelength.

Another discovery, through further experimentation, revealed that combining two of the seven colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) can create additional colors. For example, the combination of red and yellow lights makes orange. Colors born by a combination are called metamers. Interestingly, not every color combination creates a new color. Case in point, when combining yellow and violet, the colors only produce clear white.

By establishing the visible spectrum (the colors we see in a rainbow), Newton laid the path for others to experiment with color scientifically.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe did not believe colors were simply a measure of light and that some colors came from elements of darkness. He also thought colors are a subjective experience, differing for each viewer. Goethe’s “Theory of Colours” was published in 1810. Goethe’s views on color theory became widely accepted by artists.

Ernst Lehrs wrote about Newton and Goethe’s theories:
“In point of fact, the essential difference between Goethe’s theory of color and the theory which has prevailed in science (despite all modifications) since Newton’s day, lies in this: While the theory of Newton and his successors was based on excluding the color-seeing faculty of the eye, Goethe founded his theory on the eye’s experience of color.”

The Perception of Color

Green is considered one of the most soothing colors, and science is behind it. The wavelength of green light is the most unaffected of all colors and can pass through a cornea, leaving an exact impression on the retina. The color’s appearance, as a result, is evident; this is why most people find the color relaxing and an excellent choice for a business’s visual identity.

Using blue letters with a red background is generally not the most suitable combination for a visual identity. When red light passes through a cornea, it travels slightly beyond the retina’s surface, whereas blue light lands just shy of the retina’s surface. As a result, a logo with a red background will give the displeasing appearance of being elevated above the blue lettering.

An additional physiological effect that colors have on people is through body temperature. If a person stands in a room and the light color changes to red, their body temperature can increase by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. If the light color changes to violet, their temperature can drop 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Which explains why red, orange, and yellow are warm colors and violet, blue, and green are cool colors.

The Psychology of Color

The concept of color psychology is becoming a significant element in marketing, branding, and visual identity. Researchers have observed color psychology and how colors affect a person’s mood, feelings, and behaviors.

People can have deep associations with colors from past experiences and cultural influences. Western culture views white as purity, and the color is commonly used in marketing and branding to convey a feeling of safety and cleanliness. Many famous brands use a significant amount of white in their visual identity.

However, white represents death, mourning, and unhappiness in Eastern cultures. Knowing the color psychology of Western and Eastern cultures is essential when creating a global marketing campaign. For instance, a bridal campaign may want to use two separate visual identities for Western and Eastern countries.

The Psychological Effect of Color

While the perception of colors is partly subjective, based on personal and cultural experiences, the effects of some colors are universal. Various color shades can have a range of impacts on a person’s mood.

As previously mentioned, warm colors (i.e., red, orange, and yellow) can raise a person’s body temperature. Still, warm colors evoke various feelings, from warmth and comfort to anger and aggression.

Cool colors (i.e., violet, blue, and green) lower body temperatures and can make a person feel calm and peaceful. However, cool colors can cause some individuals to think of sadness and apathy.

Color Psychology of Red

Photo Credit: POLA Studio

Red is a passionate color that increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. The color can magnify urgency, hunger, and love. The visual identity of red also universally signifies strength and courage.

The psychological effects of red can increase energy and excitement, allowing the color to be used in visual identity to produce motivation and confidence. The use of red should be sparing, as too much can cause optical strain and evoke feelings of pain, defiance, anger, and hostility.

Red is a prevalent color choice for call-to-action buttons, sales logos, and restaurant advertisements to entice customers. Brands that use red in their visual identities include Target, YouTube, Coca-Cola, Netflix, and Superior Grocers.

Color Psychology of Orange

Another warm color, orange, evokes feelings similar to red but is less bold and more playful. It’s a high-enthusiasm color that projects encouragement, optimism, and self-confidence. Some negative associations can be frustration and immaturity.

Consumers tend to associate orange with great value. Businesses that use orange in their visual identity are Home Depot, Amazon, Nickelodeon, and Hooters.

Color Psychology of Yellow

Yellow, a warm color, is illuminating and inspires a positive outlook. It’s a cheerful, uplifting color that promotes creativity and inventiveness. However, if a brand has too much yellow, the result can cause anxiety and apprehension.

Businesses that achieve the right balance of yellow in their visual identity include McDonald’s, Nikon, IKEA, CAT, DHL, and Officially Mrs.

Color Psychology of Violet (Purple)

Violet and purple (i.e., cool colors) can conjure a person’s imagination and spirituality, allowing them to connect with their thoughts. Shades of violet bring forth the feeling of compassion and support and a sense of peace and beauty. Still, some may associate moodiness and excess with violet.

The color is closely associated with royalty and wisdom. Brands that use shades of violet are Hallmark, FedEx, SyFy, and Roku.

Color Psychology of Blue

Photo Credit: POLA Studio

Blue is a powerful, cool color, as its different shades evoke different feelings. Light blue kindles gentleness, while dark blue represents strength. All shades of blue are associated with trust, loyalty, and integrity.

The different shades of blue can project the polar opposite effect of the color psychology of red. Blue calms people, reduces blood-pressure rates, and reduces appetites. Darker shades of blue may induce feelings of boredom, uniformity, and rigidity.

Numerous brands use blue in their visual identity, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, PayPal, The Gap, GM, Ford, Lowe’s, NASA, and GE.

Color Psychology of Green

Green is a calming color, like its fellow cool colors, violet and blue, and it profoundly associates with nature, balance, and harmony. Lighter shades relate to freshness, and darker shades to prestige. Too much green in branding can induce thoughts of greed and envy.

Businesses of all types favor green. Organic and environmentally-friendly companies have success with lighter shades of green, while financial organizations find success with darker shades of green.

Brands that use green in their visual identity are Spotify, Greenpeace, Land Rover, John Deere, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Whatsapp, Hulu, and APenergy.

Color Psychology of Black and White

Photo Credit: POLA Studio

As highlighted previously, white symbolizes death in Eastern cultures, while white represents purity in Western cultures. In most people’s minds from Western cultures, white brings forth thoughts of clarity and cleanliness. It is a great choice to create contrast for another color, like black.

In Western cultures, black has long ties to death, which isn’t the worst thing for a casket seller, but it also evokes feelings of sophistication, mystery, and control.

Brands that utilize the sleek characteristics of black and the purity of white to give rise to style include Apple, Gucci, Chanel, Adidas, Nike, Aquatic Arts, Pavilions, and POLA Marketing.

Color Psychology of Pink

Photo Credit: POLA Studio

The color pink is closely associated with femininity, but pink also brings to mind youthful and spunky feelings. Brands that capture these sentiments are Barbie, Claire’s, and Hello Kitty.

Pink is a particular color and is not the best choice for brands looking to reach multiple demographics. However, some brands have found the right balance for their visual identities, including Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Baskin Robbins.

Color Psychology of Turquoise

Turquoise evokes many positive feelings associated with blue and green. It also brings clarity and recharges one’s spirit and energy levels. To some, this transformative color can negatively induce indecisive feelings.

Brands that successfully implement turquoise into their visual identities are Tiffany & Co., Pampers, and TikTok.

Color Psychology of Gray

Studies have yet to indicate any dominant psychological emotions associated with gray. Still, gray is a sign of intelligence. Brands that use gray include Forbes, Mercedes-Benz, and Wii.

Color Psychology of Brown

The hues of brown are red, yellow, and black. The color projects seriousness like black but with warmth from its elements of red and yellow. Many feel earthiness and reliability when they see brown, while others think of dirtiness and heaviness.

Brown is a crucial part of the visual identity of some prominent brands, including UPS, M&M’s, Hershey’s, Ugg, and Brown University.

Call in a Professional

Employing color psychology in marketing, branding, and visual identity allows a business to portray the message of its branding through visual identity accurately and better attract audiences through targeted marketing campaigns.

POLA Marketing’s team has extensive knowledge of color psychology and color theory. We employ our expertise to represent our clients’ brands with the proper visual identity to convert target audiences into viable leads. For more information, contact us at (www.polamarketing.com).

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