Color surrounds and influences us. Good marketers use it wisely, even in their words. Early in my career, when I worked as a designer at Boeing Wichita, I was told I was “fuchsia silk in a gray-flannel world.” I took it as the compliment it was intended to be. The remark stuck with me, in large part, because of the colorful image it painted.

Color could be one of the least understood, yet most valuable tools in your creative arsenal. Let’s rectify that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into a technical discussion about the color wheel and primary, secondary and tertiary palettes. Or concerns about luminance, reproducibility and perception. I’ll focus on leveraging color theory, because the psychology of color directly affects how people respond to your marketing.

Consumers’ ever-shorter attention spans make color even more vital. Color makes an immediate, automatic impact. It suggests meaning and evokes emotion. It influences behavior. Color can attract or repel. It guides you through a physical space or an online form. It builds connection and brand loyalty. It can cause you to open your wallet, or snap it shut.

psychology-of-color-green-blueSet the Mood

Colors can be cool or warm, and they likewise affect our emotions. Colors in the red, orange, yellow range stimulate and make you feel happy. That’s why fast food restaurants use warm tones, to turn on your taste buds. Hues in greens and blues conjure calm. Healthcare organizations and spas use cool, calming palettes to lower your blood pressure and create a sense of peace.  When choosing your color palette, consider the response you’re after.

If you want people to think of an event as a refined, high-brow affair attended by influential people,  try a neutral, monochromatic theme. Think grey, white, black and camel.  Add a pop of metallic silver, gold, copper to add opulence and ultra-affluence. Want to create a hot happening that will get hearts thumping and people out on the dance floor? Go red, magenta or other high-intensity colors with lots of saturation and impact.

psychology-of-color-purple-pinkColor Matters

Research shows that Americans prefer blue (35%) and green (16%). Studies suggest men favor cool colors, while women lean toward warm ones. Culture, age, gender, time and place all play a role in the meaning of colors, of course. Red can signify romance or danger. It can stimulate or stop you, but it definitely gets your attention. Gold is almost universally recognized as a signifier of sovereignty, of achieving status and wealth. Purple, the regal color of royalty, is also associated with creativity. Perhaps that’s because it’s a mixture of blue (relaxing) and red (energizing). Neutrals can make your brand appeal high-end, timeless and classic.

psychology-of-color-blue-purpleTarget Your Audience

Color has distinct personality. More than two centuries ago, in 1798, Goethe and Schiller created the Rose of Temperaments. It categorized professions and character traits into four overall buckets, each with a set of defining colors. The language feels old school to us now, but the insights still have value.

  • CHOLERIC: Red/orange/yellow. Tyrants, heroes, adventurers. Alpha, take-charge leaders.
  • SANGUINE: Yellow/green/cyan. Hedonists, lovers, poets. Social extroverts who create.
  • PHLEGMATIC: Cyan/blue/violet. Speakers, historians, teachers. They get stuff done.
  • MELANCHOLIC: Violet/magenta/red. Philosophers, pedants, rulers. Analysts, scientists and programmers.



Consider Point of Purchase

Make your first impression lasting and positive. Studies show that consumers make a judgment on a product within the first 90 seconds. As much as 60-90% of that is based on color. Corporate logos with colors appropriately linked to their products and services have an advantage. Color affects how we think about a brand, and those feelings affect buying intent.

What you call your color affects consumer preference, too. Given the choice of “brown” or “mocha,” for instance, consumers overwhelmingly prefer the imaginative name. Manufacturers are right to offer aircraft liveries with options like solar yellow, Athens blue and mantis green.

Brands evolve and good logos change with them. Crayola provides a strong testament to the power of color. Even though the Crayola logo has changed many times since the company’s founding more than 100 years ago, the packaging has never veered from its classic yellow and green. You go to the shelf and there’s no missing that distinctive brand or confusing another crayon manufacturer with it.

As you think through everything from print ads to tradeshow booths, remember warm colors appear to advance, while cool colors recede. Studies show that warm colors evoke more spontaneous, unplanned purchases, while cool colors rate more favorably and appropriately for planned, long-deliberated purchases. So, when you see that sea of blue at the next aviation tradeshow, know that it represents not only blue skies and flight, but a highly rated consumer color that positively influences buying behavior. Blue affects perceptions of time, too. Time feels shorter when watching a blue screen rather than a red one. A good thing to know when you want people to linger.

Color is light. Color is energy. And, in marketing, color is money.

This article originally appeared in the February 14, 2018 issue of BlueSky News.