Color can be persuasive, emotional and triggering. Based on each person’s personal preferences and experiences, a particular color may invoke a particular memory or feeling. This makes it especially difficult to ascertain which colors to use for branding or marketing, because the impact it will have is particularly uncertain. Plenty of research has been devoted to pinpointing effects that colors have on us, and this article aims to explore considerations to be had when choosing your company’s color palette.
You may have heard of Pantone’s Color of the Year, an international color trend that sends designers atwitter. Pantone is a printing company most known for its color matching system used to set international color standards across industries. The Pantone Color of the Year aims to reflect a general feeling of the time as expressed through color. It is a symbolic gesture, but the Pantone colors set a trend for the upcoming year throughout the rest of the industry, influencing design palettes in fashion, interior decorating, and print.
For 2016, Pantone chose two colors: rose quartz (a pastel pink) and serenity (a baby blue). The colors attempt to mirror a modern societal infatuation with peace-of-mind, mindfulness and finding serene ways to cope with modern stressors. Compared to 2015’s earthy marsala (a rich wine color selected to represent enrichment), 2016’s colors are airy and dreamlike, a symbolic gesture by which to illustrate consumers’ preoccupations with idealism in the modern age. The selection of the two colors, a pink and blue, display gender blurs through color. Generally marketed to women (pink) and men (blue), Pantone illustrates how cutting-edge use of color in fashion or design is becoming increasingly unisex (we’ll note how gender influences color preference later in the article).
Every human possesses the mechanism of color perception. Color is as universal as sight, and yet, color is also profoundly subjective. This is illustrated by Josef Albers, in his book, Interaction of Color when he notes, “If one says ‘red’ and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. All…all these reds will be very different. Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions.” Various studies have been conducted to define the connections between color and emotions invoked by that color. We do know that colors have varying effects on our nervous system, and that colors can trigger memories. Whether feelings invoked by emotions are inherent or not, certain colors carry symbolic meaning that is taught to us depending on culture and personal experience. The “marketing” of color carries certain meaning to the viewer dependent on the color’s usage. For example, black is generally used in associated with death, nothingness, space, or formality, and viewers come to expect this association.
Because of color’s ability to trigger thoughts, colors are deeply connected to human experience. A 2014 study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia tested 184 adults to find how the use of color in brand logos made them feel:
Blue: confidence, success, and reliability
Green: environmental friendliness, toughness, durability, masculinity, and sustainability
Purple: femininity, glamor, and charm
Pink: youth, imagination, and fashionable
Yellow: fun and modernity
Red: expertise and self-assurance.
Pre-existing connections with a color will influence how a viewer feels. For example, the color “red” is most often associated with aggression or romance, but this study found that viewers did not have these emotions in mind upon inspecting popular “red” logos. They looked at brands like McDonalds, ESPN and State Farm, and found that the reputations of these brands influenced the perception of the color “red” instead of the other way around. Because of the popular use of “red” by well-established brands, “red”’s reputation carried over into other brands that used the color. Jessica Ridgway, a doctoral student in the MU Department of Textile and Apparel Management, had this to say of the study’s findings: “The results also remind brand managers that they cannot rely on traditional color associations alone. They must stay attuned to how colors are viewed and applied in popular culture such as in entertainment, as this tends to influence consumers’ color associations.”
During the 1980s, mass-marketing evolved, exploring the concept of “gender normality.” During this time period, cosmetics, toiletries, and even colors, were branded to specific demographics, and gelled the concept of “blue for boys” and “pink for girls.” Until the 1980s, baby paraphernalia had not been confined to a particular color spectrum. Colors were arguably more masculine or feminine depending on who you asked. Today we know that color preference is a social construct, and whereas an overwhelming number of women may statistically prefer blue to red, the typical male may shun purple for not being a valid color representation of masculinity. But what about the future? How will colors reflect the younger demographic, one that celebrates gender without rigid male-or-female dichotomy? A 2006 study found that 12-year-old children who did not readily associate with their assigned gender held an inverted gender-stereotype color preference. These children, now 22 and part of the “millennial generation,” are changing the face of marketing and the colors we use. Half of millennials believe that gender exists on a spectrum, and how will that affect color usage in advertising to men and women? Paying attention to trends of usage in color versus traditional usage will affect how your demographic remembers your brand, and whether it will be recalled in their consideration set. It is more important than ever to understand to whom you are marketing your brand, and what colors will be most appealing.
For more information on color trends, attention-grabbing usage, and effectiveness, our designers at Creative Juice are ready to help! We live in a visually-stimulating world. Let us help you stand out by picking an attractive palette that will captivate your customers!