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Why colours matter: The science of using colours in marketing & communication

Colours have the unique ability to influence people’s feelings, perception, choice and thoughts. In almost 60-90% of the cases, customers base their assessment of a product solely on the colour used in the logo, font, packaging, and other marketing tools visible to them. Considering the fact that a particular colour invokes particular emotions, smart marketers design their products in the way they expect their customers to feel about it. However, colour preference is often interrupted by some important factors such as culture, religion, gender, age and the contexts. Although inconclusive and debatable, general responses and preferences to particular colour give a significant hint to the marketers in their effort to branding.

Colours have the unique ability to influence people’s feelings, perception, choice and thoughts. In almost 60-90% of the cases, customers base their assessment of a product solely on the colour

When asked about the facebook's preference of blue over other colours, Mark Zuckerberg said “Blue is the richest colour for me; I can see all of blue”.If we go deeper into the scientific truth about the blue, we find that the mystique of blue in facebook’s layout is not mere coincidence. Blue is the favorite colour of both male and female in the world. In a recent study, it was shown that 57% of the man and 35% of the women surveyed chose blue as their favorite colour, greatly exceeding the percentage of other colour preferences.

Colour Preferences by Gender:

Image credit: KISSmatrics

Moreover, blue is considered the colour of trustworthiness, reliability, loyalty, integrity and sadness. Emotional reaction may also hinge upon the intensity of the same colour, for example, dark blue signifies trust, dignity, intelligence and authority while bright blue represents cleanliness, strength, dependability and coolness.

As is the case with the colour blue, other colours such as red, green, yellow, black and white also exert much influence on perceptions and emotions. Yellow is considered the colour of playfulness, wisdom, warmth, comfort, happiness and energy. The reason why most of the children school buses are painted yellow may be ascribed to the personality traits it bears. Companies that deal with environments, awareness, and energy saving usually use green as it represents freshness, serenity and life.

Colour and Branding:

Colours play a significant role in purchases and branding of products. Consumers relate the colour to the particular brand’s personality. According to the study named “The interactive effects of colour”, Consumers purchasing decision is influenced by the Perceived appropriateness of the colour being used for that particular brand in question. For example, owners of Ford Mustang want to feel rugged and express their feelings through the products they use. They will, for sure, never buy pink or green coloured edition of Ford Mustang.

Jennifer Aaker, psychologist and professor at Stanford University, conducted a research on Dimensions of Brand Personality, suggesting five core dimensions shown below.

dimentions of brand personality
dimentions of brand personality

Furthermore, every trait of the brand personality may attune with a specific colour. Brown and grey clothing may align with ruggedness, dark blue or purple cars may go with sophistication, and Red Ferrari or White Lamborghini may symbolize the excitement etc. The brand personality portrayed by a specific colour, however, should not be stereotypical. The same colour-personality relation may not be true for different products because of the different contexts. For example, Orange is considered to be the most sanctified colour in the Hindu religion, but this is not even acknowledged as a colour by Ndembo in Zambia.

Perception about certain colours is also influenced by their names. Our attitude to certain colours, whether it is negative or positive, depends upon how the names sound to our ears. Studies show that fancy and mellifluous names are preferred over dry and monotonous ones. Despite being the same colour, “Royal blue” will create a better impression than “Dark blue”. In research “Mocha” was found to be more popular than “Brown”, although researchers confirmed both the colours to be same.

Additionally, it was found that consumers react more positively to a colour, if unique, ambiguous and fantastically weird names are used. The more creative and surprising the names are, the more likely it will attract a consumer’s attention. If we use fire engine red for a particular design of red clothing, it will affect more positively than the simple use of red. In the same way, lemon tart will be given preference over simple lemon and thus help make a difference.

Bottom line: Colour association, considered as an essential element of brand identity system, varies according to culture, gender, age, contexts, and many other important factors. Brand managers are expected to discern the perceived importance of colours and its applicability in a particular geographical area. Generalized scientific studies regarding colour associations may spell doom for a particular brand, if the factors mentioned above are not considered. On the other hand, properly conducted research on the choice of colour and its appropriateness with certain products may increase the brand recognition by almost 80%, thereby, increasing the overall sales and profit for the company.

Note: Thanks to Samantha Morshed for editing this piece. 

Kamal is a brand and marketing aficionado based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is a contributor to Future Startup focusing on Branding, communication and marketing.

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