Why do fast food companies always use red and yellow in their branding? What’s the significance of Google’s rainbow logo? Why is Apple’s apple white?
Behind every color choice, there’s a story. Companies are strategic in picking a palette to define their brand—and for good reason.
Color has a profound psychological effect on consumers that sets the tone for how they interact with a company. Here are some scientific findings that demonstrate the power of color:
1. 80% of people believe color increases brand recognition.
2. Visual perceptions determine purchasing judgements in 93% of people.
3. Over 84% of consumers cite color as their main reason for purchasing a particular product.
4. People make a subconscious judgement about an environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing. Between 62% to 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.
5. Ads in color are read up to 42% more often than the same ads in black and white.
The numbers don’t lie. Colors play a huge role in branding and even a company’s success.
The ones marketers choose depend on a few factors: their industry, the character and values of their business, their target audience and the emotions they want to evoke.
Color Me Curious
Let’s break down the basics of what the different colors convey and how brands use them.
Red Rover, Red Rover
Want to make a bold statement? Go with red. It’s the color of love, danger, anger or any other conceivable passion.
The reason it evokes so many strong emotions is because it has powerful physiological effects. It activates the pituitary gland, which increases a person’s heart rate and breathing, and even stimulates appetite.
That’s why it’s the perfect choice for food and beverage companies like Coca-Cola.
Fun fact: The origin of the Coca-Cola red comes from back in the 1890s when the company started painting its syrup barrels red to distinguish them from alcohol barrels for tax agents during transport. The color has stuck ever since and remains iconic today.
Moving down the rainbow, the color orange signifies friendliness, enthusiasm and youth, as well as affordability.
These qualities are fitting for companies that target kids like Nickelodeon, whose name pays homage to the early movie theaters that showed films and variety shows for just the price of a nickel.
Orange also exudes spontaneity and adventure, which is why brands like Harley-Davidson and Timberland use it to appeal to people’s wild side.
Yellow is an attention-grabber that evokes playful warmth and curiosity.
Marketers often pair this color with red to really turn heads, which is especially effective in attracting traveling customers. That’s why gas stations and, to answer our previous question, fast food restaurants use the yellow-red duo.
McDonald’s, Burger King, Sonic, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., the list goes on. Honestly it’s harder to name a fast food place that doesn’t use either of these colors. Together, red and yellow simultaneously stimulate appetite and give hungry customers a warm welcome.
Nature, health, sustainability, harmony, money—these are the main things people associate with green.
The Animal Planet logo is a great example of a multi-shaded green design. The different greens represent the diversity of wildlife that the channel features in its programs.
Whole Foods is another suitably green brand, since its mission statement is “to nourish people and the planet.” With values like that, it wouldn’t make sense for the brand to be any other color.
Blue produces feelings of serenity, security and trustworthiness.
A perfect example comes from International Business Machines, better known by its acronym IBM. The company earned its nickname “Big Blue” for this reason:
No company in the computer business inspires the loyalty that IBM does, and the company has accomplished this with its almost legendary customer service and support … As a result, it is not uncommon for customers to refuse to buy equipment not made by IBM, even though it is often cheaper.
Tech, security and insurance companies tend to go for a blue palette because it inspires loyalty and makes consumers feel safe and supported.
Dell, Intel, ADT, Progressive, Geico and Allstate are all examples of companies who want to play it safe and gain consumer trust.
Purple is basically blue’s eccentric cousin. It conveys creativity, luxury and even royalty.
The card company Hallmark is a great example. Its purple coloring is a nice compliment to its crown logo. The reason for its color choice comes from the company’s devotion to high-quality products and its mission to make consumers feel special with sentimental messages.
Another iconic purple brand Yahoo! picked its palette rather haphazardly when a co-founder accidentally painted the company’s headquarters lavender. Twenty-two years later, the company is still sticking with its happy accident.
Tickle Me Pink
No surprise here—pink signifies femininity. That’s why it’s a good color for companies who target girls and women, such as Barbie, Cosmopolitan and Victoria’s Secret.
However, a more interesting example of pink branding comes from the rideshare company Lyft. Their color choice was a bold statement amid an industry riddled with safety risks for women.
Lyft’s co-founder John Zimmer said that the company had its drivers display the pink mustaches on their cars as a way of establishing themselves as a safety service for female clientele.
In contrast to its main competitor Uber’s branding, which focuses on sleek sophistication, Lyft opted for a more nurturing, soft style to resonate with a significant demographic of the rideshare market.
Speaking of Uber’s sleek sophistication, it’s time to talk about the neutrals.
Brands that use a neutral color scheme aren’t going for eye-popping visuals. Instead, they want to exude practicality, luxury, authority or even seduction.
For one, Chanel became a fashion revolutionary with its famous L.B.D. (little black dress), so it makes sense that the company would incorporate the color into its brand.
Other brands like BBC, Nike and Apple are all companies that demand respect and want to distinguish themselves from the competition.
Perhaps that’s why, as tech giants like Microsoft and Google got more colorful, Apple decided to shift from the rainbow apple to the white one we see today, which leads us to the last color category.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
In contrast to the neutral choice, companies that use a rainbow color scheme communicate that they like to have fun and that they value diversity, exploration and nonconformity.
Google, for example, used the order of the colors in its logo strategically. As Ruth Kedar, the graphic design who developed it, said, “We ended up with the primary colors, but instead of having the pattern go in order, we put a secondary color on the L, which brought back the idea that Google doesn't follow the rules.”
A company can say everything with just its palette. That’s why you need to make sure your color selection communicates your intended message.
Your brand may be your canvas, but it’s the colors that make people look in the first place.