The Emotion and Meaning of Color
Picture your favorite color. Is it a lush green, a vibrant yellow, or a smoky gray?
How does seeing the color make you feel? Calm? Energized? Sophisticated?
Whether we realize it or not, human beings assign emotion and meaning to colors. A clue can be found in our language. We are “tickled pink”, “seeing red” or “feeling blue.” While personal preference can influence your perception, individual cultures overwhelmingly attribute the same meaning or emotional significance to specific colors. For example, to Americans the colors below typically elicit these emotions or carry these connotations:
INDUSTRY COLOR CONNOTATIONS
Colors can also have a positive or negative association within a specific industry.
- Because being “in the red” is a negative financial term, many banks avoid using the color red in their brand.
- Young children prefer bright colors, so toy manufacturers steer clear of grays and subdued shades in their packaging to make the items more appealing to children browsing the toy aisles.
- Studies have shown that the color yellow can increase the severity of nausea; therefore airlines avoid using the color on the interior of commercial airliners.
- Drug company studies have shown that the color of a pill affects a patient’s feelings about taking the drug. For example, patients with acid reflux are more reluctant to take medication that is bright green, a color most people associate with acidity and sourness, preferring a soothing pink pill. 1
- Environmental psychologists have found that the color of a wall can impact how a person perceives the temperature of a room. Orange, red, and yellow paint colors make people think the room is warmer than it actually is. Light blues, greens, and purples make people think the room is cooler than it is. 2
- There’s a reason why so many fast food companies use warm colors such as red, yellow, and orange in their brands. These colors are believed to make people feel more hungry.
FINDING THE RIGHT COLORS FOR YOUR BRAND
As the owner of a business that specializes in branding, I see it far too often — businesses selecting colors for their brand based solely on personal preferences, rather than through careful examination and strategy. Perhaps the CEO has an affinity for orange or the Marketing Director hates the color blue. By taking this route, you could be sending an inaccurate message to prospective customers every time you flash your brand, misrepresenting who you are and failing to reach your intended audience. Picture the Dodge Ram logo in hot pink. Does hot pink communicate ruggedness, the outdoors, diesel, and horsepower?
- Color and emotion are closely tied. Understand the meaning behind every color before you choose colors for your brand.
- Consider your industry. Are there positives and negatives associated with specific colors?
- Put personal preferences aside and select colors that effectively communicate who your company is, what you offer, and the benefit you provide your customers.
1. Morton, Jill. "Color Psychology in Medicine." Munsell Color System; Color Matching from Munsell Color Company. Munsell Color System, 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
2. Morin, Amy. "How To Use Color Psychology To Give Your Business An Edge." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.