Brand or Burn? Part II: Colour Psychology

Roses are red, violets are blue, but if your products are yellow I won’t buy any from you. Yes, your brand’s colour scheme is likely to dictate the purchasing decisions of customers. Even established brands can’t take the risk of changing colours lest they confuse or even repulse once loyal customers.

McDonald’s famous yellow and red colours have served the fast food giant well. If they decided to change things and had orange and green, they would probably experience quite a drop in revenue; colour psychology is THAT important!

The Generic Trap

Browse through the web and you’ll soon come with the following crap about how specific colours cause customers to experience certain feelings:

Red: This is deemed to be an attention grabbing colour and arouses passion and excitement in people. Consequently, you wouldn’t use it to market your funeral services.

Blue: This colour is associated with trust, reliability and peace which means the financial sector should steer clear (only joking; oh wait I’m not). It’s also said to be an appetite suppressant (so is a picture of Donald Trump).

Yellow: This colour is supposed to give you feelings of warmth and clarity and is also said to be ‘the happiest colour on the colour spectrum’.

Orange: Associated with confidence and optimism.

Purple: This colour is associated with royalty and wisdom (hilariously ironic).

Green: This colour has long been linked with vitality and growth long before marketers got started.

Black: Boldness, tradition and authority.

Grey & White: Neutrality and calmness.

It’s All About Personal Experience

Unfortunately, the above chart ranks somewhere near ‘tabloid sports section regarding summer football transfers’ levels of accuracy. Your personal experience and cultural differences means your interpretation of a colour could be very different to the person next to you.

The issue of culture is extremely important if you’re planning to branch out. Even companies likely to only trade nationally need to take multiculturalism into account. Most of the colour/emotion combinations you’ve read above are actually Western interpretations.

For instance, brides in the West wear white whereas white is often the chosen colour for Indian funerals. Black is worn at Western funerals and is often linked with death and mourning. In certain Far East countries, black is actually associated with stability and prosperity while blue is the colour of mourning in Middle Eastern culture.

In the West we even manage to muddle up the meanings of individual colours! Red can be Love or Danger; Green can be Luck or Greed; Yellow can be Caution or Happiness and Blue can be Trust or Depression.

Then there is the small matter of personal experience. You might have been stung by wasps as a child and since then, you associate the colour Yellow with Pain. Alternatively, you could have been drunk on St. Patrick’s Day and mugged so you now associate the colour Green with Bad Luck (or robbery!)

Okay, these may be extreme examples but hopefully you get the point. You can’t expect everyone to have the same feelings of trust if you have mostly blue colouring and so on.

What Is Your Brand Personality?

Don’t waste your time trying to shoehorn specific colours into your brand in an attempt to remain within the fairly arbitrary ‘rules’ of colour psychology. It’s far better to focus on your brand personality instead. Once you know what your company is all about, it will be much easier to market to your target audience by colour. According to Jennifer Aaker’s Dimensions of Brand Personality paper, there are 5 dimensions that matter in your brand’s personality:

• Competence

• Excitement

• Sincerity

• Sophistication

• Ruggedness

Each dimension branches off into other descriptions so Sincerity is linked with Genuine & Cheerful for example.

While colours may be loosely associated with certain traits, research clearly shows it’s far more important to pick a colour scheme that matches the personality you want your brand to portray. If you sell upmarket fashion for women, your brand could be perceived as sophisticated so perhaps a Purple colour scheme is a good option?

The Isolation Effect

This is a fairly basic psychological principle which states that using an item that stands out makes it more likely to be remembered. So including Adam Sandler in a room of semi-competent actors would ensure he stands out.

A simple marketing example would be to use a red Call-To-Action (CTA) button on a landing page with a light blue background.

Colour & Gender

Joe Hallock did some great work on this topic and found some differences in colour preference according to gender. The exception is the colour Blue which was #1 for both genders in terms of favourite colour (35% women & 57% men). Red and Green featured prominently with both genders but Purple was the second most popular women’s colour and didn’t feature at all in the men’s favourites.


To be fair, the above only really scratches the surface when it comes to colour psychology in marketing but I didn’t want to overload you with information! There’s every chance I will revisit the topic in the future but for now, a high level overview will have to suffice.

What you can see is that you have your work cut out if you wish to find the right colour scheme for your brand. Concentrate on analysing your brand personality and go from there. Assigning a generic emotional response to a colour is a huge mistake because there are so many additional factors.

Personal experience, cultural differences and gender are really only the beginning. You also have to consider age, economic status and much more. In reality, we’re unlikely to find a definitive answer to the colour psychology mystery so your best bet is to worry about your brand personality and target audience!