3 Color Truths You Want to Know

We’ve all seen them: color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.” But the reality is much more complicated. Let’s bring this back to marketing and design.

We’ve all seen them … color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.”

pyschology of colorsThe reality is much more complicated. We select color based more on our personal experiences. Research done by Karen Schloss and Stephen Palmer tackles this, focusing on evolution. The main theory — we like colors tied to things that are healthy and promote survival.

Also mixed in this “personal experience” are cultural norms. We are culturally conditioned on how to perceive color. For instance, Eskimos have 17 words for “white” as it applies to snow conditions.

Let’s bring this back to marketing and design. There are several studies available with many of the same conclusions. Here’s my take on three aspects we can all start with:

1. Does the Color Fit What’s Being Sold?

Is the color appropriate for the brand or product? Does the color fit the “personality” of the brand? Example: We can assume a pink glittery model of a Harley probably wouldn’t sell well given the brand’s rugged, cool image.

When it comes to picking the right color, predicting consumer reaction is critical. Although there are stereotypical associations (brown = ruggedness, purple = sophistication and red = excitement), it’s more important for your brand or product color to support the personality you want to portray instead of simply fitting within a stereotype.

Color works best when it matches a brand’s personality. There’s no clear-cut guideline here but the feeling, mood and image plays a large role in perception and purchase persuasion. Think of Apple, which uses white as its dominant color to effectively communicate their clean, simple design. Yet remember, they didn’t start out with white.

2. Stand Out From the Competition

We prefer recognizable brands. This makes color important when creating a brand identity. Consumers quickly recognize brands not only by the logo but also by its color. New products or companies should select color(s) that separate them from their competitors. If the competition is using blue you’ll want to choose a color to contrast them. Think of Apple again, vs. IBM. White is most definitely not “big blue.”

I know this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I hear “we want to be similar to our competition.” Be YOU. Not a “me-too.”

3. Gender Makes a Difference

Yes, it’s true men’s and women’s color preferences are different. One of the best studies on this topic is Color Assignments by Joe Hallock. I encourage you to read it.

Here are the highlights. Take notice that blue was the favorite color of both genders and how consistently it’s liked across age groups.

Female favorite color Male favorite colorMen and women also differ when it come to shades, tints and hues, with men liking brighter bolder colors and women preferring softer colors. Men tend to pick shades of colors (black added) and women leaned toward tints (white added).

Favorite Color by AgeThe small piece of an infographic below from KISSmetrics demonstrates this difference very clearly.

KISSmetrics Shades and TintsConclusion: It’s Not all Black and White …

… And, not as simple as many infographics will have you think. The more research you can do, the better you’ll understand the subtlety color brings from a psychological perspective. Stay tuned for future posts as we fill in the missing colors on practical applications.

Author: Patrick Fultz

Patrick Fultz is the President/CCO of DM Creative Group, a creative marketing firm producing work across all media. He’s an art-side creative, marketing strategist, designer and lover of all things type. His credentials include a degree from Parsons School of Design with 15 years of teaching at his alma mater, over 40 industry creative awards, and he previously served as President of the John Caples International Awards. Always an innovator, Fultz was credited with creating the first 4-color variable data direct mail piece ever produced. He continues to look for innovative ways to tap the powerful synergy of direct mail, the web, digital and social media.

One thought on “3 Color Truths You Want to Know”

  1. Very excellent information. As a creative service owner who comes from the art and design side of advertising, this is good to know. When I was coming up in the world, there were definite biases about colors that would be most favorable by types of industry, Orange and blue were practically all anyone used as the main color scheme. Boring.

    I found that color made much less difference than good design including well done type (text as it’s now called). I won a couple of awards for direct mail pieces in which brown was the general color scheme. One was for an animal feed company and another was for a chemical company. I have yet to win any award for a blue piece. They are too common based on the faulty ideas you just critiqued.

    Thanks and keep up the good work. I try to read everyone of your comments and postings. We seem to have the same feelings and experiences.

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