Strolling down city streets, sailing past the aisles in a supermarket, browsing the Internet, or flipping through one of the many catalogs that find their way into our hands each year, it’s difficult to imagine a world without color. More than we realize, color provides an essential aesthetic that can exude a sense of comfort and tranquillity one moment and strike our retina the next.

We consciously turn to well-established hues when making a decision on purchasing or using a product, particularly when we are trying to make a statement about our personalities, for example by owning a dazzling red sports car or a sleek black leather coat. Subconsciously, color continues to play a role in how we respond to the environment around us.

In fact, according to a recent study conducted by the Seoul International Colour Expo secretariat, 92.6% of participants stressed that visual appearance was the most important factor in choosing a product. While the elements that make up the way something looks aren’t limited to color there’s no doubt that color plays a pivotal role in marketing.

What’s Your Mood?

The emotional and symbolic significance of color has been apparent for thousands of years, from the ritualistic and spiritual power of red ocher to the distinctive humours of the Renaissance to color values in modern life that are honed on a target audience and their preferences. Without question, the cultural implications behind color are key to good marketing, whether it’s deciding to use a fresh, organic green when creating a brand identity for a local farm or an inflamed red to dominate the logo of a sports team.

Color psychology offers various attributes associated with each color, and this is where most marketing campaigns begin. Identifying the target audience (looking at considerations like gender, profession, class, ethnicity, cultural preferences, and personality) and then referencing that information against color psychology is critical when laying out the design, as it becomes part of the graphic, which is integral to the message. Color has to represent the company ethos, the product it is selling, and the users it's aiming for. When properly chosen and implemented, it can become embedded in culture itself (like the Coca-Cola red and Starbucks green are today).

Color has to represent the company ethos, the product it is selling, and the users it's aiming for.

To Use or Not to Use

Equally important in relation to color (chromatics) is “no color” (monochromatics), which is the negative space or nothingness that surrounds an object or subject, something of particular value in publishing, the art industry, and advertising. Recent trends have seen a return to the simple—celebrating crisp and clear designs that demonstrate professionalism and accuracy, thus giving the consumer a sense of reassurance as well as stylistic aesthetic satisfaction.

From revamps of the covers of works of classic literature to electronic interfaces such as the latest iOS or Windows on smartphones, it seems as though less is more. Only focusing on one to two or three colors, which are elegantly defined by a simple design, can be not only economical but also easily identifiable and pleasing to the eye.

Some brands still insist on an onslaught of colors, however, from multi-colored logos that reflect diversity and opportunity to intricately detailed ones that are often a miniature image of the product itself. While the general population tends to move away from these, their incredible sense of detail—as with the famous Relentless energy drink cans—continues to uphold a sense of identity fundamental to both product and buyer. Particularly in the videogame industry, the more detailed the game cover, the more detailed the game (with excess equating to quality) although this too is diversifying.

Changing the Spectrum

While colors continue to play specific roles (pink, for example, is associated with the gender stereotyping of femininity and with campiness) they are becoming interchangable in certain products. Seasonal campaigns often take particular advantage of this by swapping out their traditional colors with festive colors instead. Starbucks recently replaced their plain white cups with vibrant red ones for the holiday season, foregoing the figurative cold and wintry outdoors feeling seasonally associated with white for one that effuses warmth, comfort, and flavor.

Working on a subconscious level, this is successful not only because of the subliminal messages of home it conveys, but because a sense of harmony with the rest of the food and retail environment is established, as other outlets are using similar colors. And because these colors differ from a product's usual spectrum, they also draw attention, luring in customers who will feel like they are getting a little extra simply because it is holiday-themed.

Choose Your Hue

In a way, it's not only the boldest, brightest colors that capture the eye, but how each color is used and in what context that makes effective branding work. Whether conveying a feeling of contentment or refreshment, calmness or exuberance, combined with graphic design and typography, color is key to making a product resonate with users.


Image of dude in red sports car courtesy Shutterstock.