Red and orange and pink and green

What your brand colours say about you

There’s a good chance you won’t remember green ketchup. Surprise, surprise, it never really took off.

While we can blame marketing or the recipe, the simple fact is that people don’t like food that looks the wrong colour. Green is the colour of vegetables, snooker tables, and slime. Ketchup is supposed to be red.

Colour choice applies to far more than just our food though. The colours you use can have a big impact on how people perceive your brand. Colours steer emotions and can encourage (or discourage) people from engaging with you.

There are a huge number of factors involved in colour psychology, from the person’s gender to the ambient lighting. And things change over time — it wasn’t too long ago that blue was seen as a girls’ colour and pink was for boys.

You can’t really generalise about what a colour means to an individual. But when you’re developing your brand’s visual identity, you need to start somewhere. Here are some things to consider when looking at brand colours.

White = goodness, sacredness, spirituality, purity

Today, we’re more likely to associate white with modern technology. Apple, Sony and Tesla use it to give their brands a clean, sophisticated, efficient look. But despite its clean look, think carefully before using it as a main brand colour — your logo will disappear into the background otherwise!

Red = power, lust, danger, excitement

A very popular colour for leading brands around the world, red says energy and passion. It’s a colour that grabs your attention and shows confidence. Big brands using red include Coca Cola, Netflix, and Virgin.

Orange = boldness, energy, immaturity

Orange can be friendly and fun — Nickelodeon, for example. But it can also seem cheap, so use it wisely. Some brands, like easyJet, use the sense of cheapness to great effect, but using it as a primary colour could be risky for others.

Yellow = happiness, optimism, competence

Yellow helps brands stand out. Think IKEA, Veuve Cliquot, or JCB. Mailchimp use the optimistic angle well, giving users the impression that their marketing email will be a great success. Yellow is often used along with black for contrast — think carefully about how you’ll use it to avoid colours looking washed out.

Green = envy, good taste, nature

A great choice for environmental brands or organisations who want to seem healthy or relaxed (Whole Foods or Starbucks, for example). While not quite as vibrant and exciting as some other colours, it’s still a powerful choice.

Blue = masculinity, corporateness, quality, competence

Blue can be quite a serious colour, with dark shades especially popular in finance. Companies like Barclays, PayPal, and American Express use it as their primary colour. However, it can seem a bit unfriendly. Lighter shades (like Skype, for example) can take the serious edge off.

Pink = femininity, love, playfulness, sophistication

Many brands that are aimed mostly at women use pink as their primary colour. Victoria’s Secret and Cosmopolitan are two well-known examples. Pink doesn’t have to just be feminine though, it can also suggest fun and youthfulness. In fact, if you want to be seen as progressive it might even be better to avoid connecting pink with femininity altogether.

Purple = luxury, nobility, loyalty, authority

Many brands use purple as their primary colour. Cadbury’s is perhaps the best-known example in the UK — they even have a Pantone colour named after them, 2685C Cadbury Purple.

Different shades of purple can say different things. Lighter can express tenderness or romance, darker can show luxury. Rich purple shades have evoked royalty for centuries — it was traditionally one of the rarest dyes.

Brown = warmth, safety, reliability, ruggedness

Brown is the perfect fit for a brand like UPS that wants to be seen as secure and dependable. However, it can seem quite dark and probably won’t be the right choice if you want to look modern and energetic. As lots of people’s least favourite colour, it’s not used by many companies.

Black = grief, fear, expensiveness, sophistication

Brands like Chanel make use of black’s sophistication. However, the feeling of grief the colour can invoke means it’s not suitable for every industry.

Developing your palette

You won’t have just one brand colour. Even if your logo and imagery is red, for example, you’ll need a background to put those against. So as well as your primary colour, you need to think about the rest of your palette.

Besides psychological implications, there are practical factors you should take into account too. Without enough contrast, for example, you’ll run into accessibility issues. Or maybe you’ll choose a subtle Pantone shade, only to realise that it doesn’t look the same on a device screen.

We might be biased, but we think it’s essential you consult with professional designers early on. Don’t let your team get wedded to an idea only to realise when it’s too late that it won’t work for your brand. Colour choice is a science and an art, so give it the consideration it deserves!