As I mentioned in a previous article, How to Influence Male and Female Viewing Audiences, advertisers and film directors use a number of skillful production techniques that work at a subconscious level to influence their audiences. The symbolism of color is one of the tools in their arsenal. Choosing the right colors will help you to create the emotional response you are looking for with your audience.
Advertisers and film directors use a number of skillful production techniques that work at a subconscious level to influence their audiences. The symbolism of color is one of the tools in their arsenal.
In this article, I list the basic colors and give you a brief overview of their symbolic meanings in the Western world.
Red is the Color of Danger (or Arousal)
When we “see red” our metabolism speeds up. Red is associated with blood and danger. It serves as a warning sign on the backs of venomous spiders and with certain varieties of berries. The symbolism of the color red represents danger (warning signs, stop signs, red lights, fire engines).
- Red is also associated with sexual arousal (red lipstick, red nails, red light districts). A woman dressed in red is perceived by men as being more sexually available
- Red is often used in branding because it stands out (Coca Cola, Virgin, Lego, KFC, Nestle, Exxon, CNN)
Yellow is the Color of Caution (or fun)
Yellow immediately attracts our attention. Our eyes evolved to rapidly pick out yellow objects, probably because it is the color of lions, leopards, and tigers – fearsome beasts that preyed on us when we first climbed down from the trees and began walking upright. The ability to quickly spot a lion stalking us in the grass helped to ensure our survival.
- Yellow cabs stand out in a sea of traffic, and yellow symbolizes caution with traffic lights and hazard signs (slippery floors etc). Interestingly, babies cry more in yellow rooms, possibly because the color overstimulates them
- However, yellow is also the color of the sun and fire, so it is used to indicate warmth and fun
- Bright yellow is a color favored by females, and is associated with childishness, playfulness, and fast food (McDonalds). A bright yellow sports car (yes I have one) might be too loud and playful for most men. Gold on the other hand, is universally liked because it is associated with wealth and prestige
- Yellow and red are frequently combined in branding because our eyes are drawn to both these colors (Burger King, Shell, Kodak, DHL, Denny’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Dole, Mastercard, Wells Fargo)
Orange is the Color of Warmth
Orange is associated with warmth, joy, and sunsets. Children love orange (Fanta anyone?), and because it is the color of autumn leaves during the harvest season it is often associated with food, a healthy appetite, and a time of plenty.
- Orange can be very effective for promoting food products and toys (including toys for adults – e.g. Home Depot, Harley Davidson)
Green is the Color of Nature
Green is used it to symbolize environmentally friendly products and the great outdoors (Whole Foods, Land Rover, John Deere). It symbolizes growth, fertility, and newness; for example, a ‘greenhorn’ is a young novice.
- Green also symbolizes safety; hence the green traffic light means it is safe to go.
- Green is also associated with healing and restfulness, so drug companies will often use the color green to promote the safety and healing qualities of their products
- Dark green is often associated with money and prosperity.
Blue is the Color of Coolness
The color blue slows down our metabolism and has a calming effect. Blue is the color of the sky and sea and symbolizes depth and stability. It is a cool, calm professional color, as opposed to the arousal and fun of the reds and yellows.
- Blue tends not to be associated with food products because subconsciously we associate blue with poisonous creatures and rotten meat, so it suppresses our appetites
- Blue symbolizes cleanliness, professionalism, and clinical precision. It is a color that is favored by males, (in fact women rate men as being more attractive while wearing the color blue)
- Is commonly used by corporations (IBM, HBO, General Electric, HP, Prudential, Samsung, PayPal, Facebook).
Purple is the Color of Royalty
Purple symbolizes power, luxury, wealth, and magic (Yahoo). Brands that feature symbols of royalty like a crown (e.g. Hallmark cards) also use it. Children especially seem to like this color (e.g. Barney the Friendly Dinosaur).
White = Purity (or Lightness)
White is associated with safety, innocence, purity, and virginity. White usually has a positive connotation. White also symbolizes hospitals, sterility, and medical professionals so it is often used to promote safety, cleanliness, or health products.
Black = Power (or Darkness)
Black is usually associated with power and strength (Adidas, Nike, Microsoft), as well as prestige and elegance (Gucci, Armani). It is also a formal color (black tie events, the Uber black limousines – a service I use often).
Black is also associated with the “dark side” (Jack Daniels, AC/DC) as well as death and grieving.
Black usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, ‘black death’). However, black contrasts well with bright colors and can make other colors really stand out.
What can you do with this Information?
Think about your business brand and personal brand. Think about your key marketing messages. Which color or combination of colors will you include in your wardrobe choices or background settings to convey the right symbolic messages to your target audience?