The psychology of color theory in marketing.

Have you ever wondered why nearly every fast food franchise on the planet uses the color red and yellow? It turns out there’s a theoretical (and therefore controversial link) between color and persuasion in marketing. It’s called color theory.

But does that mean? At its most basic level, color theory is a guide to how colors mix and the visual effects certain combinations can have. But there are a lot of misconceptions around the psychology of color.

For example,research has shown it can be effected by elements like personal preference, cultural differences, context and more.  Thus the idea that green can promote feelings of harmony or pink those of tranquility is not particularly accurate. But that’s not to say color theory is without its benefits.

Color plays an important role in branding.

When you think of UPS, the color brown probably springs to mind. Likewise, red is permanently linked with Staples (a shameless self-plug). For these companies, and thousands of others, color is a strong part of the brand and what makes them recognizable.

But it’s more than this. Colors also play a significant role in purchases. In fact, a study from the University of Winnipeg found that up to 90% of snap judgements about products are based on color. Just what color depends on the product. For example, no one wants to buy toothpaste in a black tube.

To choose the right color for your brand, you need to discover which color consumers will feel is most appropriate.  This will depend on which trait your brand represents. Are you rugged or sophisticated? Exciting or reliable? Certain colors closely align with traits. For example, rugged outdoor gear tends to come in browns and dark greens, or perhaps bright hunter’s orange. These colors are far less appropriate for a chic women’s fashion brand.

How to use color theory.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to color theory. There are tendencies, however, and you can use them to help your own brand.

For example, brighter colors tend to create an energetic feeling that can evoke responses. This is why McDonalds uses red and yellow. Theoretically, this color combination creates a sense of optimism and encourages the appetite, drawing in impulsive shoppers.

Additionally, darker colors are believed to create a sense of authority. Thus if you want to project your webpage as credible and serious, dark blues, greens or blacks may be the right choice.

On the flip side, the von Restorff effect, also known as the isolation effect, indicates people are more likely to remember items that stand out. Research has shown that people can recognize and recall items more easily when it is dramatically different from its surroundings.

Color coordination is important.

While the theories about colors evoking certain emotions are largely unproven, what is proven is that most people prefer color coordination. This is achieved by using analog colors like shades of green, or complementary colors like red, yellow and blue.

By creating stark visual contrasts with complementary colors, you can make key parts of webpages and print materials stand out. And this is ideal for things like important buttons you want users to click.

At the end of the day, there’s really no simple answer. This is a topic that’s rife with speculation and conjecture, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The best approach for any brand to take is to do the research, challenge the norm and find the best answers for itself.