The psychology of colour in marketing

Colour psychologist Angela Wrights takes a look at why we should never underestimate or misunderstand the role of colour in marketing.

The psychology of colour in marketing

The psychology of colour in marketing

Science has established that response to colour (or any aesthetic element) is on average 80% unconscious. Response to colour is entirely subjective, so it is assumed to be unpredictable. There is nowhere that colour is not experienced – except in the dark – meaning that it is all around us, every waking moment, which could be why we often don’t pay it much attention.

Opening our eyes

If you are responsible for the marketing in a small business, it is vital that you do pay attention to the way you use colour to promote your brand because there is far more to colour than meets the eye. It is the universal non-verbal language that nature uses to give us information we need to navigate a challenging world. Without colour during eons of evolution, we would not have survived as well as we have. For example, colour tells us if a plant we are considering eating for dinner will poison us, or if a creature coming towards us is likely to attack, and when the environment turns grey we recognise the onset of cold and damp weather.

Today, we still recognise all these signals and adjust our behaviour accordingly. One modern example is that most people would relish a juicy, green apple, but would anyone be tempted for even a moment to eat a juicy, green steak? Nowadays, colours are often man-made, and we have more complex environments and sophisticated situations to contend with, but the fact remains that our primitive instincts are still driving our behaviour as powerfully as they ever have.

Generally, colour psychology would be relatively low on the corporate priority list when there are so many more important things to focus on, but it is a fact that colour affects your bottom line far beyond mere cosmetic improvements – your potential customers respond to your colours instinctively and quite unconsciously 80% of the time.

How can we be sure we’re communicating accurately?

Look at your colours together: Instead of considering individual colours in isolation, devise a brand palette of colours that work together. It is a scientific fact that people do not particularly respond to one colour alone, but to colour combinations. First choose two colours for your logo – unless, of course, they are already established, in which case they should be the starting point for any new brand colour palette. Next, build up a palette of between 6 and 12 colours that work well with the logo colours. Your logo is sacred and the last thing you need is to have any single colours in your marketing materials or presentations that weaken the effect of the logo.

Be consistent: It is worth spending time at the outset of this process to hammer out the exact nature of your brand. It is marketing suicide to try and please everyone because you end up varying your messages and mixing them up. Ask as many people in the company as you can to help you define your brand equity, then consider carefully how best to project the most positive aspects of that personality. If you are clear about who you are as a company, and tell the world unequivocally, you will command respect and people will trust you.

Have faith in instinct: The good news is that we are all born with an instinct for colour. It is still there, even if it is tucked away in our unconscious minds. We don’t forget, and if you trust yourself and avoid the temptation to over think the colour decisions, the chances are that you will get it right. As a colour psychologist, I am constantly amazed at the accuracy of people’s instinctive colour choices.

The effect of colour

We have looked at this before, but is worth reiterating the psychological effects, both positive and negative, of each of the main colours. The four psychological primary colours – red, blue, yellow and green – relate respectively to the body, mind, emotions and the essential balance between these three. The psychological properties of the eleven basic colours are detailed below.

RED: Physical

Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, ‘fight or flight’, stimulation, masculinity, excitement.

Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.

BLUE: Intellectual

Positive: Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm.

Negative: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.

YELLOW: Emotional

Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, creativity, friendliness.

Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety.

GREEN: Balance

Positive: Harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, peace.

Negative: Boredom, stagnation, blandness, enervation.

VIOLET: Spiritual

Positive: Spiritual awareness, containment, vision, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality.

Negative: Introversion, decadence, suppression, inferiority.


Positive: Physical comfort, food, warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, fun.

Negative: Deprivation, frustration, frivolity, immaturity.


Positive: Physical tranquillity, nurture, warmth, femininity, love, sexuality, survival of the species.

Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness.


Positive: Psychological neutrality.

Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, depression, hibernation, lack of energy.


Positive: Sophistication, glamour, security, emotional safety, efficiency, substance.

Negative: Oppression, coldness, menace, heaviness.


Positive: Hygiene, sterility, clarity, purity, cleanness, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.

Negative: Sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, elitism.


Positive: Seriousness, warmth, Nature, earthiness, reliability, support.

Negative: Lack of humour, heaviness, lack of sophistication.

Final thoughts

It is important to understand why I have included the positive and negative effects. There is no such thing as a good colour – or for that matter a bad colour – because they all have the potential to work well or really badly. That is why it is so important to consider the brand palette as a whole, to make sure that the colours work well together. Disharmony will negate even the most perfect colour.

The key to success is the harmony of the whole. If you trust yourself and think it through calmly you will get the right combinations.