Swiss artist Paul Klee said that, “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.” Color in and of itself is interesting in that its affects go way beyond our ability to see it. Colors are widely known to have a very real impact on us whether we’re buying a car, looking through photos, or working on a website. For those who are Meryl Streep fans, you may remember the demoralizing speech she gave to her fashion magazine assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. After Streep tires of her assistant’s laissez- faire attitude about her professional attire and she berates her accordingly, “You go to your closet and you select that lumpy blue sweater because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean.” “That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs.” As the story goes, some people take color very seriously and for good reason.
So how exactly do we see color? Processing color involves the retina, which is covered by millions of photoreceptors called rods and cones. These receptors process the light into nerve impulses and send them to the brain. Which colors a person sees varies and can range from someone with mild to complete color blindness to people who experience neurological oversensitivity in what’s called synesthesia. This occurs when an individual involuntarily perceives colors associated with certain letters and numbers. For instance, “g” might be orange and “l” might be blue. Some individuals with synesthesia can taste or smell colors, while those with chromesthesia see colors when they hear specific sounds or musical notes. Seeing certain colors is thought to be influenced by a person’s sex. Researchers have found that women are better able to see subtleties in the yellows and greens. And in men, the color green tends to look more blue-green, while oranges appear more yellow. This doesn’t mean women see colors better, it just means that the nervous system that deals with color is different in men and women.
The psychological aspect of color is where the differences end. When it comes to how colors make us feel, it’s thought that many of us react similarly to certain colors. This is why web marketers and user experience designers put a lot of thought into choosing specific colors in their branding & advertising and online applications. When used in conjunction with persuasive content, color can instill trust, make you feel hungry, or energize you. Kiss Metrics shows some compelling statistics when it comes to using color in marketing and branding. Research shows that color increases brand recognition by 80%, 85% of customers place color as their primary reason for purchasing a product, and 93% of consumers place visual appearance and color above other factors when shopping. Not surprisingly, some groups of shoppers are routinely influenced by particular colors. Black, royal blue, and red-orange tend to appeal to impulse shoppers and these colors are best used for fast food and in outlet malls. Navy blue and teal are popular with shoppers on a budget and are appealing for banks and larger department stores, while pink, rose, and sky blue appeal to traditional shoppers and are used in clothing stores.
The colors below are often used by major brands to stimulate a specific emotion.
– Yellow: Optimistic and youthful. Good for window shoppers.
– Red: Energy, creates urgency, hunger. Seen in clearance sales.
– Blue: Trust, dependable, security. Seen in banks and businesses.
– Green: Growth, health, wealth. Used in stores to evoke a feeling of relaxation.
– Orange: Friendly, cheerful, confident. Used for creating a call to action, subscribe, buy, or sell.
– Pink: Romantic. Used to market to women and young girls.
– Black: Powerful. Good for marketing athletic and luxury products.
– Purple: Soothing, calm. Used for beauty and anti-aging products.
Much has been written about the impact of color, and some say that the emotions that colors evoke aren’t really universal, but based on personal experiences, upbringing, or culture. Studies have shown that people aren’t necessarily influenced by color, they are simply turned off by products that are packaged in colors that consumers feel are not appropriate for the brand (e.g., if Irish Spring soap were sold in red packaging). And, sometimes a color is chosen because of a preference or even, in Facebook’s case, because of a color processing issue. Mark Zuckerberg has stated in The New Yorker that Facebook is blue because he is red-green color blind and can see all shades of blue. The thought for many who don’t buy into color psychology is that a company should use colors that align with their brand, not with what others in their industry or product category are using. However, a quick look at logos from the top banks clearly shows a propensity toward blue while the majority of the top fast food chains have red logos. And, sports manufacturers tend to favor the power of the color black. Coincidence? We’ll leave that for you to decide.
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