Colour Me Happy: Considering Colours And Their Subliminal Effects

It’s now a well-known and accepted fact that as consumers we make snap decisions, without registering what caused us to do so.

We’re guided by imperceptible nudges that happen too fast for us to process consciously – in the world of branding we must be mindful of what these nudges are, since they can easily turn someone away.

Colour choice for a product and its associated assets (brand, packaging, website design, communication to customers) is absolutely one of these nudges, with plenty of research backing this up. But the answers aren’t as clear-cut as you might think…

Seeing is believing

While we as consumers are increasingly aware of the “tricks” that advertisers use to win our attention, our loyalty and our wallets, that doesn’t stop these tricks from working.

Some of these tricks are based on our brain’s processing information, causing instinctive associations, too fast for us to contradict. We might be capable of pulling that process apart, but to counteract an innate reaction requires extra effort and an extra mental step – to be honest, we just don’t have the time to always do it.

The result? We’re keen enough for efficiency of effort (physical and mental) that sometimes we’re happy enough to rely on these reactions. We pride ourselves on the evolution of our civilisations, but many advertisers know that the hardwiring in our brain hasn’t completely caught up yet!

This is why the words “FREE” and “SALE” still grab our attention, and why tabloid newspapers have their red tops.

Red, good; blue, bad….right?

Red: the colour of anger, passion, power…it’s the colour of blood, so does it excite us because spilled blood once meant danger or harm? And white is for purity and calmness, isn’t it? And yellow is sunshine-happy…

The truth is that while there are some fundamentals, we can’t rely on quick-answer pop science. Subjective preferences, personal experience and cultural significance all affect how someone interpret a colour – no colour, or colour combination, is going to guarantee anything. Black started out (and still is) as the colour of mourning for many nations – but that hasn’t stopped it becoming the darling of the fashion world, and by association now has strong connotations of luxury, premium and sophistication.

Artistic difference

Creating a visual point of difference, not just as a brand but within your branding, helps to guide consumers.

On the shelf this might mean choosing a colour scheme that departs from your competitors, and in a brand’s digital presence it means making sure your accent colour – for calls to action, like “order here” or “sign up now” – stand out.

White is frequently associated with blandness, purity and calmness, but if the rest of your website and colour scheme is dark then it can be a brilliant eye-catcher.

Living the dream

Especially important for packaging: think about the finished article. Each material, sheen and printing effect will affect the presentation of colour in a different way – picking a matte finish for big, bold, bright colours will mean they aren’t going to look shiny and flashy.

Which might be exactly what you’re looking for – using a matte cardboard with bright colours produces packaging which draws attention while retaining a natural look and feel.

What fits?

Authenticity is an all-important cornerstone for brands, and your colour choices have to ring true. For food packaging, a colour that reflects the food inside is a sensible choice, and is an elegant way to avoid using actual food photography.

Green is always going to have an association with nature, since it’s everywhere in the natural world. Current assumptions about heavily processed foods mean that brands trying to associate with health and wellbeing often use it.

Bulls-eye targeting

Different demographics will traditionally have different associations with the same colour.
In Eastern countries, for example, white is the colour of mourning, while some studies have shown differences in colour preference between genders and age ranges.

There’s a wealth of research out there, but we can help to make things simple. Colour is a huge part of what we do – just ask us.


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