Color Psychology: How Big Brands Use Colors in Advertising and Marketing
When it comes to the way a brand presents itself to the world, there are no accidents. In most cases, every logo and talking point is carefully considered, ruthlessly focus-grouped, and closely analyzed before it’s presented to the public.
One of the most important considerations for a business is the color or colors they use to identify their brand. Some brands have even gone so far as to trademark a color. Colors can leave a lasting impression and elicit a wide range of reactions and emotions, making them an important thing to consider when creating your logo, painting your offices, or designing any of your marketing materials.
So what exactly do those colors mean? Here’s a breakdown of some brands that use very specific colors and what those hues mean to them.
Color psychology dictates that this insanely popular logo color stands for being “trustworthy, dependable, fiscally responsible, and secure.” This makes sense when you consider the central role it plays in the identities of big brands like Facebook, Wal-Mart, AT&T, and probably your town’s police department. Several industries are dominated by this cool hue, including the tech, finance, and lifestyle spaces. Consumers trust these brands to handle various pieces of their everyday lives, from doing laundry to chatting with friends to saving for retirement, and that’s why these brands choose blue, to make consumers feel safe in their hands as they continue to innovate and grow their businesses.
Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users with over 1.13 billion of them logging on daily, entrusting the social media company to protect their most personal information. WalMart is one of world’s largest physical retail shops with over 6,100 stores globally that sell everything from produce to diapers to furniture; with this one-stop-shop identity to protect, Wal-Mart blue communicates dependability. AT&T is the second largest telecom provide in the US, and for many years, it was number one. The brand changed its logo in 2016, but kept the characteristic blue ribbons, a central component of the brand identity.
Fast Company calls yellow an optimistic color that has the benefit of being bright enough to grab a consumer’s attention from a distance. It makes sense that Denny’s and McDonald’s both use yellow in their logos since they’re eager to attract hungry travelers on the interstate. This explains why you see so many Denny’s diners and McDonald’s restaurants on the road, and why these food stops have remained big names in the fast fare world. With over 36,500 restaurants around the globe, McDonald’s has a lot to owe to the color yellow, which has become emblematic of the brand’s “golden arches.” And, though Denny’s went through a risky rebrand that made them one of the most loved (and most bizarre) companies on Twitter, they stay true to yellow in their 1,700+ diners worldwide.
Considering using orange in your business branding? Orange is often referred to as a “friendly” color. It’s used by everyone from Nickelodeon and Nike to high fashion brand Hermes. The bright, bold orange, used by stores promoting value, like Home Depot and Payless, is said to communicate affordability. According to Entrepreneur, a subtler, peachy shade of orange tends to appeal to an upscale market. Regardless of the tint, orange definitely plays up the friendly angle by raking in billions of dollars for these brands.
Nickelodeon has been one of the biggest kids television networks for almost 40 years, with access to over 94 million American households; Hermes is in the crop of the world’s most recognized luxury brands with over $3 billion in annual sales; and Nike is the global leader in athletic and lifestyle gear with over $7 billion in annual sales, a big portion of which comes from their array of sneaker styles — all packaged in bright orange shoe boxes.
Red is a very tricky color for marketers. Often used to signal SALE, it has a color psychology all its own, symbolizing excitement and passion. Coca-Cola has been around for over a century, but its marketing campaigns through the ages have usually hinged on narratives that promote the drink as something exciting and something to be shared amongst friends and family. Their latest #Shareacoke campaign makes that shareability message explicit.
Many brands will combine red with softer colors such as white, yellow, or orange to elicit a sense of excitement without risking the perception of going out of business or danger to the consumer. Netflix combines black and white with red to make their logo pop, creating an appropriately cinematic look. And of course, content discovery site YouTube uses a similar color combo. Both of these brands are leaders in their respective categories, with YouTube registering over a billion users worldwide and Netflix dominating the video streaming sector with over 83 million paying members. Both brands look good in red, as they dare to disrupt the tech of the day, driving the innovation that consumers love.
Green is the easiest color for the eyes to process and brings to mind health, freshness, serenity and of course, money. All these things explain why green shows up in the logos of brands like Whole Foods, Land Rover, and Starbucks. Each one of the brands works to make sure consumers feel like they’re buying into something to maintain their health, let them live freely, or get them outdoors.
Land Rover has been pushing the great outdoors narrative for quite some time, usually advertising their range of utility vehicles in a rugged, natural setting. Starbucks continues to focus on the lifestyle side of things with over 24,000 stores worldwide and a drink menu that has reached iconic status. Whole Foods successfully markets the healthy life that consumers strive for, raking in over $15 billion in 2015.
Purple is a strong color with strong connotations. It’s a go-to if you’re looking to portray your brand as creative, imaginative, or wise (see food and entertainment innovators Taco Bell and Syfy Network). It can also be a soothing, emotional color, which is why greeting card brand Hallmark uses it in their primary logo and branding in over 40,000 stores worldwide.
Taco Bell is known for crazy combinations of ingredients in their tacos, and they bring this creative personality to their social media efforts as well, where they are a leader in engaging with millennials.
Syfy network offers a wide range of shows, with a primary focus on science fiction and fantasy content that targets a niche audience ready to consume imaginative content like 12 Monkeys andThe Expanse.
Depending on the shade, pink can be used to say a few different things about a brand in terms of color psychology. It can evoke feelings of fun and youthfulness, while lighter shades are more romantic and delicate. One of the most iconic brands to use pink is Mattel, a company that sells three Barbie dolls every second across 150 countries worldwide. That astonishing number might explain why pink is so intrinsically linked with Barbie dolls.
T-Mobile uses a bright, edgy magenta in their branding and in-your face, millennial-focused ads. The company started the removal of multi-year phone contracts in the United States — an industry standard for decades — with aggressive pricing and fun commercials, featuring this shocking pink background color. As sales started to increase, other telecom giants such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint followed with similar offerings (but more subdued color schemes).
Black means business and luxury. That’s why it’s the preferred color for glamorous evening wear and stretch limousines. If you’re looking to convey drama, sophistication, and a hint of status, this color will do the trick.
Uber’s primary brand color is black, and its on-demand ride service offers a line of luxury vehicles called Uber Black, so that customers don’t have to step out of a yellow cab when attending that fancy dinner party.
American Express’ Centurion card, aka the Black Card, is the ultimate status credit card for the wealthy. It’s made of anodized titanium and has a $7,500 initiation fee with a $2,500 annual fee. And, as if those figures don’t scream status, the card can only be issued via an invitation.
The New York Times may not have had a choice when they first printed their daily newspaper, but even after color images were used in print they didn’t move away from the bold black letters on the headline. The newspaper is still referred to as the “paper of record.”
When you use white in your logo or marketing materials, you’re telling people you have nothing to hide. Apple, one of the most popular brands in the world, uses white for its primary branding to relay information and make products stand out from the crowd with a sense of transparency and cleanliness.
Take a look at Apple’s repertoire of products and you’ll be hard pressed to find one that isn’t wrapped in white, or white’s silvery cousin, chrome.According to Apple’s Chief Design Officer, white doesn’t come off as disposable and is pure and quiet. From the Macbook to the iPod, to the iconic earbuds, white is a color that Apple has embraced and marketed very well.
Next time you or someone you know is looking to create a logo or brand, keep these colors in mind. The right color can make a huge difference in the way potential customers perceive your brand, but more importantly, how easily they can remember your brand.