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The Psychology of Colour in Advertising

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You may think that you have a single favourite colour but in fact you probably have several: your preferred colour will always depend on a specific situation.  Just because a lady loves hot pink on her nails, doesn’t mean she wants to decorate her house in a similar vivid hue.  In the home, most people automatically choose a colour scheme to suit each room.  People may claim that seaside blues are their favourite colours and so decorate their bathrooms accordingly; but when it comes to the living area; their favourite colour is now a calming neutral beige.  Regarding outfits, people also choose what to wear according to some unwritten rules:  dark colours such as navy seem appropriate for formal meetings and wintertime, whereas pastels and whites are hot favourites for summer.

Even if people don’t think too hard about the colours they prefer, they are subconsciously programmed to associate certain colours with specific situations and emotions: and this is true for adults all over the globe.

Harnessing Colours in Advertising

Branding and advertising agencies think long and hard about colour before they choose what to use in a brand development programme or advertising campaign.  By carefully selecting the appropriate colour, an advert can send out a powerful message to the viewer even before they have had time to read and understand what the advert is promoting.

Advertising agencies make it their business to understand the psychology of colour to enable them to use it persuasively in their designs.  For example, everyone knows that red signals danger and that people automatically react to a red warning sign to avoid the hazard.  Why is that? Evolutionary theories believe that early man learnt to associate red with danger: blood, uncooked meat, or the red face of an aggressive adversary.  But does that mean that red is never to be used in an advert?  Far from it, however as with all colours, an advert must be created with careful use of colour to ensure it sends out a positive subconscious message – one that is appropriate to what the company is selling and also to the target market.


Getting it wrong

Imagine visiting a new bank which you’re thinking of entrusting your savings to and finding the building decorated in soft pastel yellows and pinks.  Does your gut instinct say go ahead with your savings plan or do you feel a little uneasy by the wishy-washy decor?  And if a nursery school sends you a prospectus in sombre greys and blacks, do you really think that this would be a fun and stimulating place for little Billy to spend his toddler years?

Getting it right

There is no point in fighting against the subconscious messages that colours send out.  Advertising agencies must harness the right colour for each campaign which must be perfectly in tune with the products being sold, and with the customers it wants to attract.  Here’s the rundown on the messages that different colours send out and how best to use them in marketing campaigns.





While red signifies danger it can be used to good effect in marketing campaigns which need to evoke strong emotions.  Red is associated with passion and love but its strong intensity also signifies excitement, determination and courage.  Here’s an example of how to use a rich dark red in a brochure design destined to appeal to those passionate about fashion.


Orange is also a dynamic and energetic colour but doesn’t have the danger overtones conveyed by red.  It draws attention to itself for its lively nature and can be used successfully for modern adverts that want to stand out from the rest, or for campaigns with a youthful target market.


Yellow is bright, reminiscent of the sun and full of energy.  It also signifies playfulness, amusement, curiosity and happiness making it an ideal colour choice for advertising children’s activities.

Darker yellows, bordering on gold, can give a feeling of prosperity and security and can be used to great effect for financial orientated organizations.


Green is firmly linked with nature and the environment in most people’s minds.  It is also associated with reliability, safety, stability, honesty and freshness.  It is an excellent colour to form the basis of marketing material for companies concerned with the environment or financial matters.


Blue is a colour which arouses trust in the viewer.  It may be a little serious, but it also suggests success, depth, loyalty, calmness and power.  This is why it is one of the most popular colours in corporate brands and designs.  Banks, financial institutions and medical companies can always rely on blue in their advertising campaigns to send out the message that the consumer can trust them implicitly.


While purple isn’t really so different to dark blue, it sends out a whole new subconscious message to the viewer: it’s got the snazzy and daring edge on navy.  Purple is associated with luxury, royalty, dreams, mystery and elegance.  Light shades of purple are soothing and work well for beauty orientated advertising.


Pink is sweet, young and vulnerable.  It will always be associated with femininity at a subconscious level making it a hard colour to use in advertising if the target market is anything but female.  However a stronger and darker pink has the potential to hold its own against other traditionally non-corporate colours such as yellow, orange and purple.



Brown is rarely seen as an exciting colour.  However it is associated with nature and is seen as relaxing and casual.  Colours ranging from mid beiges to chocolate browns lend themselves nicely to advertising for niche markets where brown is a dominant colour such as coffee and chocolate manufacturers, and pet services.


Black, greys and white

There is nothing more staid than the non-colours: black and white, and all of those greys in between.  They depict traditionalism, conservatism and neutrality, and can be used very effectively in advertising.  Organisations which want to portray themselves as completely trustworthy and serious, such as legal firms, may opt for black and white designs in their marketing materials.  Some daring marketing campaigns may use a monochrome design purely to stand out from the colourful adverts of its competitors.

Colours are wonderful things: they can lighten up our lives and can infuse us with happiness; they can also excite us, calm us down or make us feel reassured and nurtured.  Correctly harnessing the psychology of colour in advertising is a very powerful tool:  when an advert has the right colour to match the services or products on offer, and one which simultaneously appeals to the correct target market, the advert will form the basis of a successful marketing campaign.

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