The top 5 branding colors (and what this says about us)

Color influences our moods and feelings in ways we may not even notice. It shapes our attitudes toward products and brands and is an important differentiator in an increasingly visual world.

According to Neuromarketing author Roger Dooley, 95 percent of our buying decisions are made subconsciously. In a study aptly titled Impact of Color on Marketing, researchers found that up to 90 percent of the time,  initial gut-reaction to products is based on color alone.

Needless to say, color is a powerful marketing tool.

Analyzing the logos of companies on Forbes‘ list of the world’s most valuable brands, The LogoFactory found that 35% use blue, 30% use red, 23% are grayscale, black and white or without a scheme and 20% feature yellow or gold. Additionally, 7% use green, 3% feature four colors or more, and only 1% are purple.

On the most basic level, color can be divided into two categories: warm and cool. Warm color represents energy and passion, while cool colors signify security and calmness.

Blue

Blue, the most widely used branding color, is associated with the sky and the ocean, and communicates calm, trustworthiness, safety and responsibility. It’s little surprise, then, that it’s often used by financial institutions, tech companies, airlines and the medical industry. When it comes to picking a color for a brand, blue is without a doubt the safest choice. It doesn’t upset anyone or draw too much attention to itself. That it replaced red as the most popular branding color tells us that companies are perhaps growing more risk-averse and don’t feel as much of a need to stand out.

Red

In nature, red represents danger. Red evokes an immediate response and activates our senses and raises our heart rate. It communicates passion, aggression, energy, urgency and impulsiveness. Companies in the food and beverage, hospitality, communications and automotive industries typically flock to red. The fast food industry loves red, probably because it commands attention and appeals to our impulsive nature, encouraging our subconscious to give into those cravings.

Absence of color

Grayscale, black or white logos have seen surge in popularity over the past few years. Removing obvious color cues from the branding equation enables us to project more or our own values onto the brand. Luxury and fashion brands tend to favor black or white because they represent prestige, simplicity and sophistication. The most prominent example is Apple. Since moving away from the rainbow version of their famous apple symbol, the brand has grown become the most valuable in the world ($124 billion, according to Forbes.)

Yellow

Yellow reminds us of the sun, and communicates happiness, hope and warmth. It can be used to effectively capture our attention, without feeling as intense as red. It’s commonly used within the food and beverage, home goods and energy industries. Generally, brands that use yellow want to be perceived as friendly and positive. Case in point: McDonald’s. In the early 2000s, their slogan “we love to see you smile” was accompanied by a smile symbol added to their famous golden arches.

Green

Associated with freshness, loyalty, health and wealth, green has been on a steady rise since the start of the new millennium, probably due to our increasing awareness of the environment. Because it reminds us of grass and forests, green makes us feel safe, calm and grounded. The most well-known brand that uses green as its main color is Starbucks. Much of Starbucks’ marketing efforts are targeted toward making the customer feel a sense of loyalty and trust. Starbucks also wants to feel more like a neighborhood coffee joint than a multi-billion dollar brand. However you feel about that, it’s a brand quality that is enhanced by the choice of green.

Rainbows and universal appeal

Any branding expert will tell you that you should pick one or two brand colors and focus on owning those. Yet, there are brands that don’t feel the need to choose. Google, Microsoft and eBay are three prominent examples of companies that use a rainbow of colors in their logo. From a branding perspective, this signals a lack of focus. Trying to be everything to everyone is never a good idea; although if any company can claim a demographic of “everyone,” it’s those three. There is somewhat of a downmarket quality to multi-color brands, as they communicate “universal appeal.” Interestingly, as Apple ditched its rainbow logo, the company was able to shift the perception of its brand from utilitarian to luxury.

So what do these most common brand colors say about the landscape of corporate America? Well, it seems we’re risk-averse yet prone to impulsive actions. Our tastes are becoming more sophisticated and design savvy. We value happiness and want to be perceived as down-to-earth. Few brands can claim to have universal appeal, but the ones that do aren’t afraid to show it.

As a marketer, what are you hoping to communicate with your own color choice?

Post by Johanna Björk

3 Responses to The top 5 branding colors (and what this says about us)

  1. I really enjoyed the article about the color choices for branding your business. Years ago I used to do talks for groups on the psychology of color and how it affects us. They were more geared towards using colors in the home or business as we are a decorative painting firm.
    Color not only affects our current mood and state of mind, it can also trigger old memories or feelings from the past. Good and bad.
    Great read – thank you!

  2. Pingback: Why Branding & the Psychology of Color for Your Products Is Important | Applicacious

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