The Simple Psych Behind Color

Simple Psych for Complex Marketers

This blog post is part of a series on how to use what we know about the human mind and its penchant for simplicity to make our marketing better, our designs more pleasant, and our lives simpler. If you’re coming across this series for the first time, you may also want to check out the rest of the content by clicking here.

The Simple Psych Behind Color

Are the pizza giants controlling my mind?

Sometimes, I stand in front of my fridge, just looking at my food.

Not because I want to, mind you. I know, deep down, that I'm hungry. On a physical level, I know that there is some nutritional value to be had just by picking an item in the fridge and eating it.

But still I stand there, and still I stare blankly at the food in my fridge.

It was in one of these moments of indistinct hunger and immobility that I let my mind wander away from food, and more towards its packaging. I noticed that I had multiple frozen pizzas in my freezer (try to withhold judgment) and that they were all in red or orange packaging. 

Papa-Johns-Logo-PNG-Transparent-download Pizza-Hut-Logo-PNG-Transparent-Background Dominos_pizza_logo.svg

Why, though?
Are the corporate marketing shills behind Pizza Hut and Dominos in on something?

The answer is yes. And they're in on your brain.

*cue Twilight Zone theme*

Now, don't go deleting your Facebook just yet because it's not like these pizza giants have hijacked your brainwaves. The only thing they've done is made use of the psychology of perception and some studies on peoples' attitudes toward brands and colors to educate their design standards.

Colors can be associated with common emotional responses

This changes from culture to culture, and certainly from individual to individual. As always in the world of psychology, we're looking at an average result pulled from a population's aggregate of responses. This isn't a Buzzfeed quiz - I can't tell you what color you should wear based on your zodiac sign. All that in mind, check out what are believed to be the meanings associated to specific colors below. (According to this marketing theory study written by a couple of P.hD's at the Cardiff Business School in UK)


The Caveats

Sorry, but breaking down the human mind tends to get messier than a painter's palette.

I can't stand here and say without a doubt that you felt clean and healthy when you dished out $6 on a bottle of asparagus water at Whole Foods simply because it came in a bottle with a white and yellow label and it sported a green logo.

Put simply, people feel lots of different emotions everyday and for a variety of reasons. So here's two base rules:

  1. Cultural norms and personal experiences change and shape the way you look at the world to the extent that everyone has a completely unique perspective. This means that different colors mean different things for different people.

  2. We can't just look at color in a vacuum, nor can we say that if you make your pizza brand red, you'll be the next Papa John's. The relationship between buying behavior and color is not causal. The truth of the matter is that color alone can't make or break your brand.


That said... 

The perception of color in the buying circuit absolutely has an impact on attitudes towards brands and products. Take these points into consideration:

  • "Customers generally make an initial judgment on a product within 90 seconds of interaction with that product and about 62%-90% of that judgment is based on color." (Source)

  • The ability to grab attention can influence buying behavior. (Source) One study found that subjects subconsciously divert attention to their favorite colors when they're presented on a screen. (Source)

  • And finally, it's important that a brand's intended personality match the emotional values associated with the brand's colors. One study showed that...

Subjects showed higher likelihood to purchase if they perceived that the brand's colors appropriately matched the brand's perceived personality. (Source)

So, why red?

  • Excitement might drive an appetite
  • Primal emotions related to power and lust might find a link to a hunger drive
  • Red, along with love, and excitement, and pizza drive images of Italy and their flag. That's amore!

Summing it up:

Logo colors should be connotative of the function or emotions that their products provide. This might seem obvious but understanding the psychology behind the notion and the associations behind colors can be hugely valuable in your design and brand efforts.

And finally, these findings vary person-to-person, culture-to-culture – don't take it as an undying truth. Instead, think hard about your audience and what kind of color associations they're prone to make, make something cool, test it out, and try again.

If you're interested in learning more about the psychology behind design, check out our free guide by clicking the link below: