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The Psychology of Colour: How Big Brands Paint the Perfect Picture

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Colours have always evoked certain emotions. Even though empirical studies are lacking when it comes to colour’s impact on the brain, we know they have an effect. Whether it’s decorating a room, wearing a certain outfit or adding visuals to a web page, each hue sends out a different message.

Of course, we know that white light divides into the full spectrum of colours thanks to Sir Isaac Newton. After passing white light through a prism, he not only proved it was made up of different components but that each colour is made up of a single wavelength. Much like sounds operate on different frequencies, colours have their own wavelengths and that, in turn, seems to have an effect on our psychology.

Colours can affect anyone’s mind

However, far from there being strict colour-to-feeling relationships, it seems that emotional responses operate on a spectrum just like light. For example, in Western cultures, white is associated with purity and innocence.

In contrast, eastern cultures tend to use this colour during times of mourning. In addition to cultural differences, there can also be individual differences when it comes to colours and emotions.

Someone who went through a traumatic experience as a child may link any prevalent colours from that time with negative feelings in the present day. Therefore, in terms of the impact on our psychology, it’s impossible to say definitively what reaction a certain colour will provoke. Indeed, this is what prompted researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier to say there is ‘surprisingly little theoretical or empirical work‘ in this area.

The current colour psychology theories occupy the same realm as those linked to other social endeavours such as the psychology of shopping habits and the psychology of blogging. However, despite being a niche subject, there are studies out there. 

In 2014, Sevinc Kurt, Associate Professor at Cyprus International University, looked at colour and mood among university students. Using previous experiments testing colour and emotion, Kurt found that there was a definite link between the two.

Our eyes can dictate our emotions

One of the most significant examples was the use of pink. Through a series of questions, he determined that colours impact whether people feel ‘warm, cool, calm, invited, relaxed, or uninvited’. This evidence supports the results of Schauss’ 1979 pink prison experiment. Placing prisoners in pink cells, Schauss found they were less aggressive.

This points to the idea that pink can increase feelings of calm and warmth. Away from laboratory settings, we can all see the effects of colours in our everyday lives. Take a brand like Coca Cola. Whenever you see the red-and-white logo, it’s instantly recognisable.

It’s a similar story with Facebook. Although simple, the blue-and-white logo has been carefully crafted to send out the right signals. Blue is generally associated with success, trust and responsibility. For a company that has access to massive amounts of personal data, a colour scheme that conveys these feelings is ideal.

Brands use colour to characterise their products

In fact, when you look across the digital world at large, many of the leading online brands have optimised their pages to create the right image. Gaming operator Wink Bingo is another example of how a company uses colour and artistry to attract customers. In an effort to separate itself from other online bingo sites and, importantly, the gaming industry as a whole, the site is decked out in bright colours.

Despite online gaming being home to a wide variety of players, there is still the perception among outsiders that it’s only for a certain category of people. Old images of men in suits sitting in smoky backrooms are hard to shake off.

However, in the digital age, things are very different and that’s what Wink Bingo’s interface is designed to show. Pinks, greens and yellows are all associated with positivity, energy and freshness. Alongside these colours,  pop art images of women dominate the site. This ties into the idea of online bingo being an inclusive space where everyone can have some fun.

Taking this idea a step further, Onetruepixel suggests that women are often drawn to lighter colour schemes and irregular lines. Playing on this, sites such as French Mill Studios are specifically designed to attract a predominately female audience. In contrast, men seem to prefer sharp edges and bold shapes. With that in mind, provider of industrial solutions Acme World not only uses monochrome colours but bold fonts that convey the idea of masculinity.

Real colours convey real emotions

Of course, it’s not just the digital world where colours angle a product toward certain demographics. Smoothie maker Innocent deliberately keeps the labelling on its bottles to a minimum.

By embracing the minimalist vibe, the company is subtly saying that its drinks aren’t packed with chemicals. What’s more, the lack of intrusive labels means the natural colour of each smoothie can shine through. Although the colour of each drink is largely determined by its ingredients, there is a certain amount of engineering that goes into each one.

For example, Innocent’s Seriously Strawberry not only contains the headline fruit but apple and banana. The green and yellow of these fruits turn strawberry red into a much more inviting pink. The result is a drink that’s more aesthetically pleasing on the shelf. Of course, there will be some who don’t like pink.

The science of colour is still a relatively untapped area. However, we know that colours can be used to guide our perceptions of a product. Whether it’s a website, a drink or anything else we might buy, the design a company chooses will almost always affect how it’s perceived.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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