I bet you’ve heard that purple is a regal colour, red is a warning and blue is calming. These statements are repeated often but are they even true?
While there may be some truth to these colour associations, it’s much too simplified. How we react and feel about colour is a mix of our personal experiences, our expectations, how we individually see colour with our eyes, and context, amongst other things. For example, brown can mean outdoorsy, close to nature and rugged, or it can mean luxury and decadence.
Colour is also heavily dependent on culture. We’re told that white is bridal and pure, yet white wasn’t a typical bridal gown colour until Queen Victoria bucked the colour trend of the time and made the unusual decision to wear white to her wedding. Also, white still isn’t worn by brides all over the world. For example, in China women traditionally wear red. What’s more, in other cultures white is considered the colour of mourning.
Another example is the readily accepted (although it is changing) view that pink is for girls and blue for boys. However, in the not-so-distant past, it was the opposite. Pink was considered a masculine and strong colour and blue was dainty and soft, but society’s acceptance of this did a 180-degree turn in the 1940s – mainly thanks to marketing. We now have many brands that use pink for female-related products, services and causes: Barbie, Victoria’s Secret, and pretty much all breast cancer awareness campaigns.
It’s not that colour doesn’t have an effect on us. It does. It’s just more complicated than we’re led to believe. Here are a few other examples:
- A recent study examined the colour of beauty product packaging and how participants felt about the product. For example, white was seen as best matched with anti-ageing products and green with anti-acne. However, researchers found the response was based on experience and context. So, we react to what we expect rather than an in-built biological response.
- Many fast-food brands have either red or yellow (or sometimes both) in their logo, but not many have blue. This is probably a good thing because blue appears to be an appetite suppressant. A study by the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University found that we eat less food served on blue plates, and another study found that we eat less in restaurants with blue lighting. Perhaps this is because there are not many blue foods or maybe we associate blue with being cold and therefore our appetite is suppressed.
- In 2011, Coca Cola released a white can to raise awareness for polar bears. While the recipe stayed exactly the same, people complained that it tasted different. In another example of how product design can alter our perception, the pioneer marketing researcher Louis Cheskin experimented with 7UP. While the drink’s recipe did not change, the can was changed to a stronger yellow colour. Afterwards, people reported that the drink tasted more ‘lemony’.
- Another Cheskin example is when margarine was first developed, it didn’t sell particularly well. When the colour was changed from white to yellow to more closely resemble butter – a product people were already familiar with –and was packaged in foil to seem more luxurious, people began to buy the margarine.
- Red does appear to have an impact on physical performance. A University of Rochester study revealed that participants had quicker reaction times and exerted stronger force when exposed to red, as opposed to blue or grey. Another study found that a sporting opponent wearing red is more likely to win against someone wearing blue. Researchers believe it’s most likely because the person wearing blue sees the one in red as more dominant, and red is commonly associated with being dominant.
We know that colour is important. But it’s less about a simple meaning such as ‘green means fresh’ or ‘blue is calming’ and instead more about how the colour relates to the particular product and the mood and personality you’re trying to create. Throw into the mix culture, personal experiences, and what people expect based on products already in that category. This doesn’t just apply to branding, but also content you create: colours used in videos, colour in an e-book or the photo with your blog article.
If you need help creating your content, please get in touch with the team at Lush.
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