The psychology of brand colours

HARISH BHAT | Updated on February 15, 2012

Colours of choice: Black can connote exclusivity and sophisitication,like Mont Blanc.

Pink femininity

Blue, trust   -  The Hindu

Yellow: happiness and sunshine   -  BL

Green, harmony with nature

Models showcasing the new range of eyegear, wristgear and accessories during the launch of Fastrack Store, in New Delhi . File Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

In branding, each colour comes with its own set of attributes and values.

In a previous column, I had briefly discussed what happens when brands change their colours. Case studies of specific colour transformations implemented by reputed brands such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Godrej and Bank of Baroda illustrated that some of these changes were accepted readily by consumers, but others were rejected immediately. For instance, when Coca-Cola recently changed the colour of its cans from red to white in some American countries for a temporary period, consumers said a loud “No”, and Coke got back to its trademark red cans very fast. On the other hand, Bank of Baroda's new, bright orange colour scheme was accepted readily by Indian consumers, and indeed it has helped differentiate BoB from other banks.

At the core of these vastly differing responses is a subject that lies on the fringe of marketing, yet is a relevant and interesting area of exploration: How colours in product or retail brands impact the minds of consumers. To begin with, we must recognise that colours play an important role in enhancing brand equity. A study of shoppers in the US showed that association with colours increased brand recognition by as much as 80 per cent. I have not come across a similar study in India, but I am certain that results in our country will also be similar. We recognise Colgate toothpaste and Kingfisher Airlines immediately by their red colour, as much as we recognise brand Tata and Jet Airways by their trademark blue.

We must also acknowledge that consistent use of impactful colours also helps differentiate brands from their competitors. Coca-Cola and Pepsi both differentiate themselves in the carbonated beverages category by using the colours red and blue respectively. Similarly, in a cluttered retail marketplace dominated by a range of bright colours, Shoppers Stop has successfully stood apart by always using black and white.

Therefore, if colours are important to brands, how should marketers choose apt and evocative colours for their offerings? Perhaps the most important basis should be the psychological impact of colours on consumers. Colours convey meanings to consumers. Some colours are relevant to some products, yet alien to other categories. For instance, the colour pink may be quite appropriate for a brand of women's cosmetics, but is unlikely to be a good idea for a brand of motorcycles. Similarly, for best results, there should be a fit between a brand's core idea and the associations that its colour evokes. A brand whose proposition rests on energy should use a colour such as red that radiates energy, rather than a colour such as light blue that does not.

Here is a walk through the psychology of some major colours. These thoughts are based on my own observations and readings. This subject is, of course, fertile ground for detailed consumer research.


The colour blue primarily conveys trust and security to consumers. That is precisely why so many large banks and reputed businesses built on the foundation of trust use this colour extensively within their logos and identities. To illustrate: State Bank of India, Tata, LIC, IBM (also called the Big Blue), GE, Intel. Also, notice how many uniforms are blue in colour, for the same reason.


Red, on the other hand, conveys strength and energy. Hence, brands of strong dust teas in South India, such as 3 Roses (from Unilever) and Chakra Gold (from Tata) tend to sport bright red colours. Red is also the colour of excitement, urgency and hunger. This perhaps explains why many exciting brands of fast food, such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC, use red liberally. This is also the reason why most consumer discount offers, where creating urgency is an imperative, are highlighted in red colour. However, as the colour red is used by so many brands today, it is virtually impossible for a new or relatively unknown brand to make a difference by sporting this colour.


Green is the colour of nature, hence it cues natural, fresh or organic products. Therefore, in contrast to strong dust teas which are branded red, brands of tea which emphasise freshness are typically branded green – for example, Tata Tea and Taaza. For the same reason, several brands of food products such as Safal and Aashirvaad include prominent green leaves in their brand logos. When one of the world's most famous brand of detergents, Tide, launched its “naturals” version recently, the colour used for branding and packaging was green.


Orange has been called the most flamboyant colour known to man. To many consumers, it conveys youth, aggression and a call to action. It is also viewed as a new-age colour, hot and cool at the same time. In the company I work in, we have, therefore, chosen this colour for our college youth brand Fastrack, which is positioned as young, edgy and cool. Relatively few brands use orange today, hence there is significant space here in several categories for challenger brands to make an impact.


Yellow is the colour of the sun. Therefore, it evokes daylight, happiness and optimism. These are universally desirable values that can be leveraged by several categories, therefore we find many brands which use yellow. Maggi Noodles (which makes kids happy) and Amul Butter (which makes kids and adults happy) are two Indian examples that come readily to mind. Yellow is also used very effectively in combination with red by several brands of snacks and foods to create an appealing blend of energy and happiness. Retail brands use yellow extensively on their store fronts for a different reason – it has been proven repeatedly that yellow grabs the attention of window shoppers.


Pink in its conventional avatar has connoted romance and femininity, so it is used extensively by brands of feminine perfumes, cosmetics and accessories. Pink is also the colour of babies and gentle feelings, so a natural colour for baby brands such as Johnson & Johnson. Adult male brands have tended to keep away from pink for these very reasons, and also because pink has been considered the signature colour of the gay community. But this is changing fast. In recent years, pink is emerging as a cool colour which conveys new-age values to young consumers. Because it is used by few brands today, it can also serve as an immediate differentiator. For marketers who are willing to take courage, pink is certainly a colour to ponder over for your next offering.


Black is a contentious colour. To many consumers, it is powerful, sleek, the epitome of pure luxury and authority. This is particularly the case with lifestyle categories such as liquor, watches, perfumes, cars and similar accessories. Therefore, luxury brands which also convey authority, such as BMW, Mont Blanc, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton and Prada routinely use black as their signature colour. On the other hand, black is also viewed by several consumers as being most inauspicious, the colour of death and nothingness. This is particularly the case with the large Indian middle class. Therefore, several mid-market brands steer clear of this impactful colour, particularly for daily-use products.

Many iconic brands have used these psychological moorings of colours to great effect. On the other hand, there are also examples of other equally great brands which have ignored or violated these colour codes and still achieved brilliant success. The lesson for marketers: Colour is not everything, but if used smartly it conveys powerful, subliminal messages which can have a sustained, positive impact on brand perceptions and consumer choice.

(Harish Bhat is Chief Operating Officer – Watches & Accessories, Titan Industries Ltd. These are his personal views).

Published on February 15, 2012

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