Color Psychology in Marketing: A Guide to the Colors That Influence Decisions

Illustration of color psychology in marketing with nine colors and open hand below tree with the text customer creating the tree crown

How much of a purchasing decision is really your decision? Most of us fail to pick up on the fact that clever marketers are coloring our perceptions of products by manipulating our brains using persuasive, evocative color psychology in marketing.

The human brain reacts to different colors with various physiological responses. Marketers use this knowledge to tap into our impulses and predilections to get us to keep coming back to spend more.

In fact, color can often be the sole determining factor regarding whether or not a consumer purchases a product. Here’s a rundown of insights regarding the power of color in purchasing decisions:

  • 85 percent of purchasers claim that color is the primary “attraction” factor.
  • 52 percent of consumers won’t return to a store if they don’t like its aesthetics.
  • 93 percent of buyers focus on visual appearance.

Of course, the first and most rapidly processed impression for visual appearance is color. Are you curious how colors are used by marketers to motivate us to make purchases or adjust our habits? Take a look at the colors that move the needle for influencing consumer decisions.

The King of Corporate Color: Red

The King of Corporate Color: Red

Bold and urgent, red is used in the logos of many highly popular brands. One only has to close their eyes for a moment to bring up dozens of highly influential brands that use red in their logos. The list includes Netflix, Target, CNN, YouTube, Exxon, Coca-Cola, Food Network, Red Bull, H&M, Kraft, Nintendo, ESPN, LEVI’S, Kellogg’s and ACE Hardware. What makes red such a winner for a company’s bottom line? Here’s the rundown on how red moves sales:

  • Red is highly linked with feelings of alertness and safety.
  • Red increases appetite.
  • Red is often associated with sales or clearance deals.
  • Red symbolizes passion.
  • Red creates feelings of intensity.

Red’s association with sales makes this color especially effective for impulsive buyers. When used even when items are not marked down, many shoppers feel compelled to stock up on items tagged with red simply because they believe they’re getting a deal. What’s more, red stimulates nerve impulses while increasing heart rate. We also know that red stimulates glands related to appetite. As a result, you’ll find red heavily used in promotional materials for restaurants. The bottom line on red as a powerful marketing color is that it’s incredibly effective at creating bodily responses that rev us into action to do something. As smart marketers know, that “something” often involves parting with our dollars.

The Color for Creating a Sunny, Adventurous Energy: Orange

The Color for Creating a Sunny, Adventurous Energy: Orange

When orange is used in marketing, it’s almost like the advertiser is trying to shine warm, welcoming sun directly on the faces of consumers. In fact, orange is so “sunny” and optimistic that the brain has a hard time seeing corporations that use orange in their logos as “corporate” at all. Generally, we see fun and good-natured messaging when it comes in the form of orange. That’s why orange works so well for marketing products or brands that want to be seen as playful or adventurous. Popular companies like Penguin Books, Amazon, Harley Davidson and the Home Depot all use orange to inspire customers to join in on the adventure. Here’s a look at how orange primes the mind for a satisfying, non-corporate experience:

  • Orange conjures up natural, earthy thoughts.
  • Orange comes across as “accessible” and “affordable.”
  • Orange has a warm, adventurous nature.
  • Orange evokes feelings of friendliness, innovation, warmth and energy.

In short, orange is an approachable color. It’s a great option for companies that want to make it clear that their gate is open for all. It is not a color to use when trying to convey elegance or exclusivity.

The Hopeful, Happy Color That Reels Them in With Good Vibes: Yellow

The Hopeful, Happy Color That Reels Them in With Good Vibes: Yellow

Yellow is a really dynamic color for marketing because it is the color of positivity. Marketers often strategically use yellow to turn drops of golden sunshine into green cash. Yellow is an outgoing, extroverted color that seems to leap off the page, wall screen or billboard to personally wave customers right on in. Yellow is famously used in the logos of McDonalds, Shell, Hertz, Ikea, Sonic, Denny’s, Lay’s, Subway, Goodyear, Nerf and Verizon. Here’s a look at how yellow affects customer perception and purchasing decisions:

  • Yellow drums up enthusiasm.
  • Yellow is associated with youthful, fun feelings.
  • Yellow is linked with a sense of optimism.

With yellow, it’s important to sprinkle this sunny shade lightly over a logo or marketing campaign. Overusing yellow can actually undo all of the color’s positive properties to create restlessness and anxiety. You’ll notice that logos belonging to popular companies that integrate yellow use the color very gingerly instead of spreading it all around.

The Color of Life: Green

The Color of Life: Green

Humans are hardwired to perk up when we see green. After all, spotting green meant stumbling upon potentially live-giving vegetation for a large part of human history. Humans still respond to the nourishing, life-giving characteristics of green when we see this color in not-so-wild spaces. Brands that want to make consumers feel “close to the soil” often use green in their branding. Look no further than companies like Whole Foods, Starbucks, John Deer, Land Rover and Animal Planet to see this in action. What is interesting about green is that it has a dual strength when it comes to stimulating the human mind. Many financial institutions utilize green to symbolize wealth and stability. Here’s a look at how green plants seeds in the brain:

  • Green signifies freshness.
  • Green is linked with healthy, organic ways of being.
  • Green is linked with nature and growth.
  • Green has strong monetary associations.
  • Green is viewed as open, friendly and authentic.

Generally, green creates a relaxation sensation that doesn’t cause consumers to feel rushed. However, it still keeps the mind alert enough to prevent the consumer from falling into a state of inactivity. As a result, it is often used in grocery stores or similar places where companies want customers to take their time.

The Serenity Hue: Blue

The Serenity Hue: Blue

The use of blue in marketing is one of the more interesting aspects of color psychology. Blue actually elicits a variety of feelings depending on how it’s used. For instance, blue used in one setting may have a calming impact. The same shade of blue can come across as icy and distant with some minor tweaks in layout and messaging. This is also a color where the shade used really matters. For instance, a royal blue may bring up thoughts of trustworthiness, steadfastness and reliability. A teal-tinged blue can come across as more spiritual.

Blue is used by many companies with very steadfast, no-nonsense branding efforts. The list of companies known for their blue logos includes Facebook, Ford, PayPal, Visa, Dell and Samsung. Here’s a look at how blue impacts the brain:

  • Blue is considered to be a color of reason and logic.
  • Blue conjures up feelings of loyalty.
  • Blue opens the mind up to feelings of serenity.

Blue’s tie to nature comes by way of blue skies and oceans. However, you’ve likely noticed that blue colors are quite notably absent from gardens and pastures. This is one of the reasons why blue is considered one of the more unappetizing colors. For this reason, restaurants and grocery chains rarely use blue in their branding.

The Purveyor of Prestige: Purple

The Purveyor of Prestige: Purple

Long associated with royalty, purple still appeals to customers looking to have the royal carpet rolled out at their feet. With that royal touch that purple delivers comes extravagance. In fact, marketers tap into the expectation for extravagance that purple delivers to subconsciously convince consumers that they’ll have generous portions and exceptional service heaped upon them. The list of brands utilizing purple to develop brand loyalty via the color of royalty includes Taco Bell, Cadbury, Yahoo, Hallmark, Jet and FedEx. Here’s a look at what purple accomplishes:

  • Purple conveys wisdom.
  • Purple represents prestige.
  • Purple gives the impression that a person, place or thing is sophisticated.

With purple, it’s easy to make a logo or branding effort too extravagant by overusing the color. That’s why you’ll find that purple is best used in strands instead of sheets. Ultimately, purple is a dignified color that helps brands to set themselves apart while increasing expectations.

The High-Energy, Imaginative Color Choice for Risk Takers: Magenta

The High-Energy, Imaginative Color Choice for Risk Takers: Magenta

It might not seem intuitive to go with magenta branding for a company. After all, this color may come across as too “energetic” and “youthful” to be taken seriously. However, there’s no shortage of major corporations around the globe that have embraced magenta with magnified returns. Dunkin Donuts, Vineyard Vines, T-Mobile, Baskin Robbins and LG all count on magenta to give their logos high-energy messaging power. Here’s a look at how magenta fires up the brain:

  • Magenta represents youthfulness and free thinking.
  • Magenta is creative.
  • Magenta is quirky and passionate.
  • Magenta brings up feelings of outrageousness and impulsiveness.

Marketers and design experts know that magenta is a color that must be used highly strategically. For instance, many established brands like to use magenta for messaging when trying to appeal to a younger demographic or rebrand as an edgier entity. The slightly rebellious, outrageous tinge that’s present in this hue is perfect for creating campaigns that shock.

The Color of Luxury and Power: Black

The Color of Luxury and Power: Black

When it’s time to turn on the sophistication, nothing gets the job accomplished like black lettering. Like a fine ink, black on print creates an authoritative and refined look. Black is ideal for brands that want to create a sense of exclusivity. However, the same characteristics that make black a color of elegance are simply too overpowering for some industries. That’s why black works better for a fashion label than it does for a hospital. It’s no wonder why brands like L’OREAL, Nike, Adidas, Gucci and Chanel all use black logos. Here’s what the color black brings to the table:

  • Black is sophisticated.
  • Black is powerful in an understated way.
  • Black conveys substance, power and authority.

Designers and marketers know that there’s a delicate art behind pulling off a black logo just perfectly. Some fonts and imaging can make black appear dark, menacing or spooky. For most brands, the goal is not to “go gothic” with black lettering or black-and-white images. This is why strategic colors mixed in with black can be effective for really hitting the mark on a particular message.

The Clean, Sleek Wildcard That Really Works When It Works: White

The Clean, Sleek Wildcard That Really Works When It Works: White

Many marketers and designers actually shy away from using white because it can easily appear unfinished and lazy when execution is anything short of perfect. There’s so much captured within this color that seems like a blank slate at first glance. The big benefit to white is that it is clean and crisp. It brings to mind feelings of freshness and lightness. However, white can come across as sterile and bland when used incorrectly. Some examples of brands that have aced the use of white in branding are SONY, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Lancôme, Apple and Tesla. Here’s a glance at the psychology behind white:

  • White gives the appearance of purity and cleanliness.
  • White clears a path in the mind for simplicity.
  • White can make a brand seem restrained, intentional and exclusive.

White is fantastic for achieving a very modern, modular look. The simplicity of this color makes a brand appear confident because the impression given off is that the brand’s message and value do the speaking. Ultimately, putting in the work to pull off a crisp, white image is worth the effort for brands looking to stand apart from the crowd. White is often used against a backdrop of gray or silver to create a very delicate contrast that boosts the effectiveness of white.

The Color Configurations That Activate Our Brains: Color Schemes

Marketing material designed using color scheme with a combination of different harmonious colors

In marketing, the colors used don’t always convey the whole story. Using specific color schemes or combinations can either mute or amplify the messaging conveyed by particular colors. Here’s a look at three common schemes for tweaking messaging:

Many of us look at these effects daily without realizing the careful consideration that has gone into pairing and spacing colors with relentless precision. However, the truth is that your subconscious mind certainly is noticing. In fact, these schemes are precisely what propel many of our purchasing decisions dozens of times in the course of a week.

Color Psychology in Marketing: When Our Subconscious Does the Thinking

Illustration of colors that brands use in marketing and their color psychology meaning

Humans see and react to colors on a primal level. That means you’ve already formed an opinion of a brand as soon as your eyes absorbed the color tones involved in the messaging served to you. The breakdown of colors used in marketing above highlights the choices that are proven to help brands grow through brand recognition and subconscious messaging.

However, you may be curious to know how many successful companies are actually using the powerhouses plucked from these palettes. The illustration above from The Logo Company shows the colors that brands use and what they represent. Furthermore, when analyzing color usage among the top 100 global brands, a UK firm called Reboot found the following:

  • 34 percent used black in the logo.
  • 30 percent used blue in the logo.
  • 30 percent used red in the logo.
  • 9 percent used yellow in the logo.
  • 7 percent used green in the logo.
  • 6 percent used gray/silver in the logo.
  • 5 percent used orange in the logo.
  • 2 percent used brown in the logo.

They also broke down color usage by industry. Blue was the top choice among tech companies within the global top 100. For the automotive industry, red was the top pick. Luxury brands overwhelmingly chose black to make sophisticated impressions. When digging deeper, all signs point to the idea that psychology-based color marketing works. Companies that use a signature color can in fact increase brand recognition by up to 80 percent. What’s more, consumers who were introduced to fictitious company logos could recall the primary colors used for those logos 78 percent of the time. By comparison, consumers could only recognize the names of those same companies 43 percent of the time.

The bottom line is that the color of every line drawn needs to be carefully thought out by a brand. The colors used for logos and messaging cause consumers to make pre-impressions that prime the brain to think or feel a certain way about a company. When done correctly, a color can send subconscious messages directly to the brain that influence buying decisions and solidify brand identity.