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Colour psychology in marketing – your choice of colour matters

1980s colour based stay at home playlist

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Why read this? : We look at how you use colour psychology in marketing. Learn how colours influence the way customers perceive your brand with the mental associations they carry. Read this to get better at using colour psychology in marketing. 

Your choice of colours says much about your brand. Colours spark associations in your customer’s brain. They act as a signal for specific meanings.

You can use these as a shortcut to link your brand to what those colours mean for customers. 

Want to make your brand look natural and healthy? Choose a green colour palette. Want to make your brand look calm and trustworthy? Choose a blue colour palette. 

Creatives, designers and printers know these colour signals. But most marketers don’t.

That’s a missed opportunity.

1980s colour based stay at home playlist

Knowing how colour psychology in marketing works can be a source of competitive advantage.  And as we’ve just updated our colour in marketing guide, it’s been very top of mind for us.

Your colour choices impact your brand identity, your packaging, your advertising and your website. Well-used colour psychology in marketing makes your brand activation stronger. 

As part of our research into colour associations, we came across a great article that showed that some colours have become associated with specific decades. So you can look at a set of colours, and say, oh yeah, those are from the 1980s. Interesting.

Lockdown playlist social media fun

Inspired by this idea, we had some fun with it posting a bunch of social media posts like the one at the top of the page and this one.

We put our top 10 tunes, based on the decade and the colour choice. But tunes with a specific link to being in lockdown. 

This example uses the colours Natural and Harvest Gold (Hex references #c9a87d and #f7a141). These give off that dusty, beach, California free-love vibe. Tarantino’s 1960s-based movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is full of colours like these.

Compare that to the eye-watering Pacman and Powersuit (Hex references #c8ff00 and #ff00ff) from the 1980s playlist at the top of the page. Those connotations are aerobic leotards, leg warmers, and vibrant music videos on MTV. Very different, huh?

The different associations come from the colour choices. That’s very interesting from a marketing and branding point of view.

Colour in marketing - where to start

As per our updated guide, there are many practical aspects to learn about using colour in marketing. 

For example, to make sure everyone is talking about the same thing, you have to learn the different ways to name and describe colours e.g. the basic colour wheel of the 12 primary, secondary and tertiary colours. 

But obviously, there are more than 12 colours to choose from. So, you need to be able to name and describe colours specifically, so you get the same colour used consistently in everything you do. 

This usually means learning the 5 different colour systems in common use. 

We don’t know any marketing courses which train you in these. You end up hearing about them from designers or printers by osmosis and having to pretend you understand them. 

Colour wheel with primary, secondary and tertiary (hue) colours

Our colour systems article has a full explanation of each, but the short version is :- 

  • RGB is used for colour on screens.
  • HSB is also used for colour on screens, but with more specialised graphic design uses. 
  • Hex is for websites.
  • CMYK is for general printing like brochures, posters and T-shirts.
  • Pantone is for where specific colour print matching is needed such as on packaging.

Colour psychology in marketing

Knowing how to name colours is a good first step. But you also need to know what those colours mean. That’s where colour psychology in marketing comes in. 

This is how you work out how to apply colours successfully to your marketing. Most marketers give this little thought,  despite there being lots of great information out there about the psychological impact of colour. Marketers tend to rely on designers and agencies to handle this. It’s a missed opportunity. Because you can use the way people connect with colours as an insight to drive more growth.

The mental associations and signals mean colour psychology in marketing should be part of your marketing toolkit. 

Colours help create quicker and stronger brand associations. They reinforce what it stands for. 

For example, let’s take 3 well-known brands.

If we just describe them, without giving you the brand name, see if you predict what colour you think the packaging would be. 

Answers at the end of the article.

Colour psychology - an applied use of colour in marketing

Brand A

Brand A plays in the world of healthy nutrition. It makes strong health benefit claims. It spends a lot of time with healthcare professionals to build up scientific research to back these claims. This clinical, scientific approach comes through in its packaging, website and promo materials. Its target audience likes it as it gives them confidence it knows what it’s doing. 

Brand B

Brand B is an alcohol brand mostly drunk in cocktails on fun nights out. It’s energetic and vibrant. It has funky product origins, stimulating product ingredients and energetic advertising. You see groups of younger drinkers necking this brand in dark nightclubs. It’s all about a big night out.

Brand C

Brand C is in the snack business. Its main product is luxurious and indulgent. It’s the market leader and is seen as the “go-to” brand in its category. It’s mainly consumed later in the day as an indulgent treat. The brand frequently launches new flavour extensions based on the latest food trends. 

Spend time thinking about your choice of colour

Marketing is challenging enough already. A good knowledge of how and where to use colour and colour psychology in marketing can take your whole brand game up a level. 

If your product is in the supermarket, as per our packaging guide, colour is one of the key ways you can make your brand stand out from the 40,000 other products you’ll find there. It signals what your product is, and what your brand stands for. 

As per our advertising and media guides, repetition driven by frequency is a key part of building brand awareness and recognition. When you repeatedly use a colour in your advertising, it strengthens the mental connection between that colour and the brand.

For example, check out Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertising and how they link the red and white colours into everything they do. The repetition and consistency help customers remember your brand and associate it with specific colours. 

And if website design is your thing, then a consistent use of colour is a critical part of the user experience. So much so that usability.gov has an entire guide on how to use colour to improve the user experience.

Conclusion - Your choice of colour matters

We hope our little push to learn more about why your choice of colour matters hasn’t made you blue. We hope when you read this guide it made you think about how often or how little you think about colour. And talking of read, or red, even, that’s probably our hue, sorry cue to close this post off.

Check out our colour in marketing guide for more on this. Or get in touch if you’ve got questions about using colour psychology in marketing.

ANSWERS to brand colour test 

A – BLUE.

B – ORANGE.

C – PURPLE. 

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