Why is Facebook blue, and Google multicolored? Why does your wardrobe tend to feature the same color pattern? Why do politicians prefer red or blue ties? And how does Apple convert chromatic pickiness into marketing brilliance? To answer these questions, and many more, we dig deep into the psychology of color marketing, explaining how colors affect what you buy, why you buy it, and when you buy it.
Color Psychology 101: What Each Color Means
When was the last time you bought a product based just on its color? Not long ago, maybe. Impulsive purchases—like the rational ones—center on many factors, including relevance, packaging, brand appeal and aesthetics.
When consumers make decisions, they take fairly limited time, and yet the factors, including visual and need, that influence their choices can be quite complex, says Ravi Dhar, Professor of Management and Marketing at Yale University and Director of its Center for Customer Insights.
Color psychology helps organizations understand the chromatic mechanics that affect purchases, as well as the meaning of each color and how it affects consumers’ decisions.
How Age Affects Color Preferences
Age plays a significant role in color inclinations, and organizations should spend sufficient time studying the chromatic preferences of their target niche, says Nancy Puccinelli, a color-marketing expert at Oxford University’s Said Business School and one of the world’s leading experts in consumer behavior.Breaking down the color spectrum along the age line is an effective way to understanding a company’s clientele and to producing tailored content.
- Love color contrasts.
- Cry more in rooms decorated in vivid colors: yellow, red and green.
- Sleep quickly when exposed to soothing colors: blue, turquoise, light pink and light purple.
- Love mono-chromatic cues (solid colors) rather than patterns.
- Find multi-chromatic cues (color contrasts) appealing in entertainment settings (think amusement complexes, such as Disney World, for example).
- Relish primary and secondary colors, such as blue, green, yellow and red.
- Are open to trying new colors, driven by the need for exploration typical to that age bracket.
- Are familiar to the multicolored world of the Internet and cues conveyed by computer graphics, and are thus inclined to replicate “virtual realities” into their real lives.
- Respond well to multicultural influences and their color implications, thanks (again) to the Internet. • Love purple and pink (predominantly adolescent females).
- Have similar color preferences as teens.
- Tend to relish black, seen as a color of “seriousness” and sophistication, as they get into adulthood.
- Are more likely to stick with their favorite colors, and rarely experiment with new cues.
- Tend to “finalize” color preferences between ages 23 and 27, as they get more confident about things like personality, place in society, life path and professional choices.
- Are more likely to stick with their favorite colors, and rarely experiment with new cues.
- Prefer passive colors.
- Seek sophistication and purpose in color choices—for example, a woman might wear a color in tune with her favorite breast cancer charity’s brand.
- Prefer light colors in the green, pink and blue ranges.
- Seek sophistication and purpose in color choices.
- Relish the soothing cues of passive colors like purple, pink, blue and green—more than active and stimulating colors such as red, yellow and orange.
Gender-Based Color Preferences
Conventional wisdom, at least in the Western world, dictates that blue be assigned to men and pink be ascribed to everything female-oriented. This allocation is effective to some extent, although research has shown that blue tends to be appreciated by most people, irrespective of their gender, culture, education, job, social status—you name the criterion. Consequently, brand experts and visual-psychology experts recommend blue as the safest bet for every market. (Hint: What is Facebook’s brand color?)
• Favor pink, orange-to-yellow, and blue-to-red.
• Are more open than men to trying new colors.
• Relish a wider range of colors.
• Tend to be dressed in pink when they’re infants.
- Love orange-to-yellow, blue-to-red and brown.
- Are dressed in blue when they’re infants.
- Are less inclined to trying new, unconventional colors.
- Are more likely to be color-blind (red/green visual problem), especially in the West.
- Recent marketing trends, the globalization of business and the evolution of social norms have made men and women more amenable to new colors and color mixes that once were considered “gender taboo.”
- Businesses now successfully market to both female and male clients using colors as diverse as silver, black, turquoise, white, gray, red, blue and yellow.
- Males, on a global level, are becoming acquiescent to primarily female colors, such as pink and purple (think business shirts and T-shirts, for example).
Colors and Social Class
- Rich people like complex and tertiary colors.
- They also relish tints and shades of primary and secondary colors.
- The working class prefers warm and active colors
Color Choices and the Weather
- People love colors that replicate their climate and natural habitat.
- Residents of cold regions tend to prefer passive and subdued colors, while denizens of warm tropical locales prefer bright and active colors.
- Large countries with multi-weather regions, such as Russia, Canada and the United States, respond well to color contrasts, not only online but also in video marketing and outdooor advertising.
- Except during the festive season (Christmas, for example), bright colors don’t sell well in winter—and the reverse is true for subdued colors during summer.
Education-Based Color Choices
- More educated people tend to prefer a wider range of colors than less-educated folks.
- More people, regardless of education, are drawn nowadays to multiple colors thanks to the Internet and global e-commerce
- Educated people love odd color names, such as celadon, amaranth, brink pink and catawba
- Less-learned folks prefer basic primary and secondary colors
Which Color Will Suit Your Business?
- Select a brand color that is in sync with your target clientele, location and climate
- Pick a cultural-neutral color, such as blue, if your business is globally oriented
- Choose dark colors like gray, blue, indigo and brown if your firm is “serious” or wants to be seen as such (government entity, consulting firm, legal firm, funeral agency, etc.)
- Favor lighter and brighter colors—such as yellow, red, orange, green, pink and purple— if your business is “light-hearted” or wants to be seen as such (amusement park, entertainment business, social network, retail chain, clothing store, etc.).
Cultures and Color Symbolism
• BLACK is often associated with negativity, evil, bad luck and mystery (in the Middle East; in Judaism and in Christianity; and in some countries in the Far East, such as India, Thailand and Japan). It reflects power and control as well as death and mourning in the Western sphere, while representing age and wisdom in some parts of Africa.
• WHITE conveys purity, angels and positivity in the West, whereas it represents the color of death, sadness and funerals in the Eastern sphere. For example, white may epitomize misfortune in China, unhappiness in India and death in Japan (white carnation).
• BROWN suggests pragmatism, stability and confidence in most cultures. It is the color of Earth and wholeness in Chinese horoscopes—but is the color of mourning in India.
• MAGENTA in Western culture represents a mishmash of traits, from spiritual and down-to-earth to imaginative, creative, compassionate and free thinker.
• PINK is the feminine color of choice in the Western and Eastern spheres. It expresses love and romance as well as nurturing and caring.
• PURPLE conveys royalty, wealth, prestige and privilege in the West and in some Eastern countries. For example, it is the color of choice for high-ranking positions of authority, such as Purple Heart, the military honor.
• BLUE is associated with spirituality in many faith systems. It’s Jesus Christ’s color in Christianity; means holiness in Judaism; and is Krishna’s color in Hinduism. Across cultures, blue means peace and calm, masculine energy, stability and conservatism. For Easterners, blue is the color of immortality, heaven and spirituality.
• GREEN is the color of Islam and represents strength, growth, wealth and prestige in the Middle East. In the West, green is often associated with money, rebirth, hope and luck as well as love for nature and environmental awareness.
• YELLOW is a sacred color in the Eastern sphere, and often suggests royalty or imperial privilege. In the West, it means happiness, excitement, hope and caution (as in the yellow traffic sign)
• ORANGE is linked to spirituality in the East (for example, saffron in Hinduism). It also means happiness and royalty; for example, orange is the official color of the Dutch Royal Family.
• RED in the West conveys a warning (stop sign, traffic sign), danger and anger. On the positive side, it expresses passion and love, energy, action and excitement—not to mention it’s the adopted color for Valentine’s Day. In the East, red suggests good fortune, prosperity, joy and abundance (when worn by brides). Red, when equated with blood, means sacrifice and sin in some religions (Judaism, Christianity).