February 5th, 2021

5 Minutes To: Colour Theory

When I’ve run branding training in the past, one of my favourite topics to cover is Colour Theory and the unconscious impact colours can have on consumers - so I thought it would be the perfect topic to kick us off with.

There are 3 things that influence a consumer without them really noticing: sound, smell, and colour. Factoring smells and sounds into your marketing might be a bit of a challenge, but using the right colour to evoke certain emotions or associations is a bit simpler.

The Power of A Colour

The easiest place to start is branding. Think about some of the world’s biggest brands: Apple, Dell, IKEA, Coca-Cola. What colours do they use in their logos and branding? What do you associate with these brands? You probably have more pre-formed opinions than you realised, even about brands you don’t necessarily use. It’s all down to the way these companies have painted themselves - literally. 

Lots of charts like this exist around the internet with slightly differing adjectives, but it’s a great starting point for understanding the connotations that different colours can have for your brand. Remember that, as with all things marketing, these aren’t hard and fast laws: not everyone will have the same reactions, but for brand and campaign building, it’s a good foundation. 

Bold, passionate brands like Coca-Cola favour reds - it’s often something we see a lot in fast food restaurants to help catch the eye and imply a sense of urgency. We also see it in toymakers like Lego and Mattel. 

On the other end of the spectrum, purples are used to invoke a sense of luxury. Brands like Chambord, Hallmark, and Cadbury clearly remembered their Roman history when building out their brand colour palettes; playing on the traditional colour of the aristocracy to make consumers feel a very specific way when thinking of their brand. Consider the way some of these brands present themselves outside of just their logos: Cadbury certainly pushes this feeling of luxuriousness in its ads. (As an aside, if you want to get a glimpse into just how important colour can be for brands, check out this piece from The Drum about Cadbury and it’s trademark purple).

Blue brings that sense of safety and security that a lot of banks, car manufacturers, and tech companies favour. You want a car that’s safe, you want technology that won’t break within a few months, and you want to trust your bank to look after your money well. Social Media platforms - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter...even Tumblr - all tend to be blue as wellI; likely to put them in the same camp as other tech brands like HP, Windows and Intel to name a few. In short, if the business relies a lot on safety and security, you’ll likely find a lot of blues in their palette.

Yellow brands, like Beacon, are all about inspiring optimism and warmth. They tend to be quite fun brands - again you see a lot of fast food brands using the yellows as well. Similarly, orange also brings the sense of fun that makes it the perfect colour option for child-friendly or child-orientated brands like Nickelodeon. These two swatches emphasise friendliness, vitality, and playfulness - perfect for your friendly neighbourhood marketing agency! 

Green is an interesting one, as it doesn’t match up as well on paper - but the link is certainly there. Naturally, the green implies things like harmony, health, growth and freshness; and brands tend to try and use this to their advantage. Unsurprisingly we see Green Giant, Whole Foods and other “natural” brands in this camp, but also a couple of energy companies, and even Starbucks. This is more about the message and the ideas they want to put out - energy companies want you to think that their brand is more eco-friendly than the competitors on the market, while Monster and Starbucks want you to think their drinks are a more nutritious option.

Then, you have the greyscale colours: black, white, and grey/silver. Black is the colour of sophistication. Most, if not all, high-end designer brands like Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and Prada use black because they don’t need to influence their customer. The name is enough on it’s own. It’s a statement in it’s own right: we don’t need to think about colour theory. You’re going to buy our products simply because of who we are. White is the symbol of purity and clarity, but it’s often not a big player in branding. Instead, we tend to see the use of whitespace, rather than the colour itself. Sitting between them is grey, once again bringing that sense of high-end sophistication, as well as professionalism and calm. Apple, Wikipedia, Honda: these are all timeless brands that you trust. 

Moodboards, Swatches, and Painting a Palette

This is all well and good on paper, but what can you actually do with this information? Of course, if you’re setting up your business you’ll want to consider how you can translate your brand personality into your “silent” assets. However, if you’re already an established brand, it doesn’t seem like colour theory can be much use to you aside from a rebrand.

At Beacon, we bloody love a moodboard when we’re setting up for a new campaign or a new style of creative assets. We bring together our inspirations behind a set of creatives and think about how best we can represent these themes through design. What this often means is that we pick our different colours and swatches as part of that moodboard to see how it reflects the overall tone we’re going for. Next time you’re planning out something new, make sure you’re paying particular attention to the colours you choose, and think about why you want to use them - and what impact they’ll have on the end consumer.