The Psychology of Colors in Advertising

A few years ago, MIT scientists discovered the human brain can interpret images that the eye sees in just 13 milliseconds. Their research showed that signals are received faster through eyes than the ears thus making visual display instantly noticeable, no matter what the medium of presentation is.

Companies spend billions in color market research especially in the consumer goods industry.  Color is said to influence mood and can impact how a consumer responds to a product, it makes everything more amiable and paired with good content will keep a visitor interested and engaged longer. The stats speak for themselves:

  • Articles with images get 94% more views.
  • 60% of consumers are more likely to contact a local business when an image pops up associated with that business.
  • In ecommerce, 67% of consumers say the quality of a product image is “very important” and affects their selection and ultimate purchase.

Needless to say, understanding your audience is the first step in choosing the right colors.  Starbucks popular logo’s instantly draws one in with soothing white and deep green colors enticed by a magical mermaid.

Target’s red bulls-eye logo is iconic in that it conveys the company’s name. It can be used on its own or with the Target name.

The bitten Apple logo is another example of logo genius. It is recognized whether it is displayed with the name or in any color; rainbow, black, silver, blue, or green.

The simplicity of the Target and Apple logos was no accident.  Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking Fast and Slow, asserts that our thinking and behavior can be broken down into Fast vs Slow. Fast thinking is automatic, unconscious, instinctive and emotional. It results in a snap judgement and sometimes bias. An image of someone laughing would invoke an impression that the person is happy (laughter = happiness).  A red heart = love.  A yellow sun = warmth.  Slow thinking is more deliberate, we are aware that we are processing information and consciously going through mental steps like counting back change at a store.  Target and Apple’s logos create an instant “fast” cognitive response.

Some common associations with colors:

Blue – stands for water, life, trust, belonging and reliability.

Green – stands for nature, freshness, fertility and abundance.

Red – stands for energy, excitement, love, strength, passion and danger.

Yellow – color of sunshine – stands for warmth, happiness and cheer.

Purple – stands for spirituality, royalty, mysticism and dignity.

Orange – stands for optimism, vitality and value.

Pink – stands for sweetness and femininity.

Silver – stands for prestige – Mercedes has a silver logo, represents class.

Gold – stands for prestige, luxury and the elite.

Black – stands for elegance, power, sophistication, seduction and mystery.

White – stands for peace, purity, cleanliness and safety.

Certain colors evoke common emotional responses in most people and are known to influence behavior in a similar way.  The colors you choose send certain messages to your audience so knowing your audience is key to choosing the right colors.

The Lego logo is perfect for kids. It is simple, playful and bright.


Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone. (Institute for Color Research)

Psychologists have found that colors boost our memory and help us to process and store images more efficiently than black or white images thereby helping us to remember them better.  Hues or shading can be used as a tool to emphasize or de-emphasize subject matter with a substantial effect.  A Midwestern insurance company used color to highlight key information on their invoices.  As a result, they began receiving customer payments an average of 14 days earlier.  (Colorcom)

As humans, we require input and stimulation.  We become bored without variety and consequently loose attention.  Color fulfills a basic need for stimulation and it can have a powerful effect.

Case Study: Heinz

Heinz has been making its famous Tomato Ketchup since 1876 and sells more than 650 million bottles every single year.  In 2000, they released a new product into the marketplace – EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green ketchup. The sales were so astounding that Heinz factories worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, just to keep up with demand. They even released additional colors. The result:  $25 million in sales, the highest sales increase in the brand’s history and all due to a simple color change.  People eventually lost interest so it was discontinued in 2006 it but it was huge success for a while.

Top companies that have mastered the art of branding with their iconic logos.

Top Brands and Their Logos