The Psychology of Colour
There are a lot of assumptions regarding colour and how it affects the psychological disposition of those who experience it. Marketers have been using these assumptions for years. Much of what is said is mostly anecdotal through practice. Studies suggest that there is far more to colour theory than just the colour itself. Factors such as the dominant culture one resides within, major events, gender bias, corresponding imagery, animism, fashion, age, and individual experiences, all greatly affect our perception of colour. There are so many moving parts, that one should consider the following as more of an abridged exploration for this time and place, rather than a bible of what each colour universally represents.
Let’s break down the factors that can significantly affect how a particular colour is perceived.
Each culture around the world greatly impacts perception of colour. For example, in North America, Black is used often for the mourning period after a death. In other cultures they may use white, purple or gold. A brand that spans across the globe may need to take this into consideration when promoting a product or service.
Purple, for example, after WWII was seen as courageous and brave. Before it was seen as royal and dignified. This could be a result of the Purple Heart Medal soldiers were given for bravery after being injured while in the line of duty. Events like this can have a profound influence on a society’s sensitivity towards particular hues.
While we all have heard that blue is for boys and pink for girls, it might surprise you to learn that this is a very new thing in our culture. The separation wasn’t really cemented into our collective consciousness until the 1940’s. There was even a time where the opposite of pink for boys and blue for girls was the case. Before that, colour was mostly gender neutral. In the 70’s with the rise of feminism, there was a push back from these rules which gave more latitude to these arbitrary rules. With that said, men and women do in large part have particular preferences with what is their favorite colour. Whether any of this is from nature or nurture is a topic for another day. Although both genders have blue as the most preferred colour, men do prefer blue above other colours more often. The difference in favorites is more pronounced with other hues like purple. For women it is the second most popular colour whereas it barely shows up on the list for men.
Imagery shapes how we feel about, as well as, perceive a shade of a particular colour. If for example a shade of orange is in the shape of a heart, most will see it having a more red hue than if it is a simple geometric form. An image portraying rough leather that’s brown for example, will evoke a different response than the same brown used in an image of chocolate. Therefore, colour is extremely subjective and context must always be considered.
Is a term coined in the late 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor and by definition represents non-human entities such as animals, plants and even inanimate objects who possess a spirit or personality. In this context, brands are seen by most to have a personality. Harley Davidson could be viewed as a rugged unshaven man in his late 30’s to 40’s, while another motorcycle brand, KTM could be seen as a young man in his 20’s who is interested in technology. Both brands use the same colour combination, but have cultivated very different perceptions of what their colours represent by tying their colours to imagery and specific brand language.
Trends within fashion are in constant flux. Colours like orange and brown surface in colour preference some years while in others drop to the bottom of the list. Understanding colour trends in popular culture can dramatically affect some brands more than others.
Studies have shown that bright colours such as yellow are more preferred in children. The colour green is less preferred, while blue and purple grow in popularity as people age. Knowing your demographic is important when working with colour families.
What started out as a simple question of how colour can motivate particular emotions, ended with a much more complex exploration of how various outside factors can create drastically different perceptions of colour and what it can represent. While colour is crucial to recognizing the impact of how it can form brand perceptions, it is only one piece of a much larger puzzle.