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The Importance of Colour in Marketing

It may sound obvious… but, colour is important (Unless you are colour blind, in which case don’t bother reading this). Colour is powerful, it can elicit emotion, it can make you sad, happy, relaxed or uneasy. Colour has different meanings to different people, it can be nostalgic, it can make you think of a specific time, person or place… So… How can we harness the power of colour when we market our products and services?

Basic Colour Theory

Now this is a topic which is about as expansive and complex as they come. There are many different theories as to why some colours match and some don’t, as well as to why certain colours do cause genuine emotional changes in our human brains. But for the purpose of this blog let’s cut to the chase a bit. The three main areas to cover with regards to basic colour theory are: The Colour Wheel, Colour Harmony & Colour Context…

The Colour Wheel

Anyone who frequents applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator or Premier Pro (Or most other photo or video editing software) will recognise the basic colour wheel. ColourMatters.com Informed me that “Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colours in 1666” and if that isn’t an interesting fact, I don’t know what is. After years of other scientists and artists building on the initial idea, we arrived at what is universally accepted as the best way to create a logical structure to help us understand colour. The wheel splits the colours into 3 groups; Primary Colours, Secondary Colours & Tertiary Colours… Though Dulux will try to make you think otherwise.

Primary Colours: Red, yellow and blue

In traditional colour theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colours are the 3 pigment colours that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colours. All other colours are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary Colours: Green, orange and purple

These are the colours formed by mixing the primary colours.

Tertiary Colours: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green

These are the colours formed by mixing a primary and a secondary colour.

Colour Harmony

Now that we have a grasp on the colour wheel, we can start look at how we can use colour to evoke emotion. Colour Harmony refers to colours which work together to be pleasing to the eye. The harmony engages the viewer and creates a sense of balance and order. “When something is not harmonious, it's either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged” (ColourMatters.com). The human brain rejects both things which under-stimulate and bore, as well as visuals which over-stimulate and cannot be organised or understood. Finding harmony strikes the balance between the extremes.

We can employ colour harmony in a marketing or branding sense when we are assigning brand colours, or when creating images for promotions. There are three great sources to think on when considering ‘harmonious colour variations.

Analogous Colours: This refers to any three colours which are side by side on the colour wheel. These work together to offer a balanced, if not neutral look. This could for example be the use of

yellow, light green & dark green. No colour overpowers the other or feels out of place, analogous colours can have a calming, relaxing effect on the viewer, but may not grab attention as much as other colour variations.

Complementary Colours: Complimentary colours are those which are opposite each other on the colour wheel. Red & green, orange & blue. The contrast between the colours creates a sense of balance as well as creating some visual tension. “Because they’re opposites, they bring out the best in each other when paired; you see complementary colours a lot in sports teams. Complementary colours are great for dynamic, stimulating visuals” (99designs.co.uk).

Triadic Colours: These variations are colours which draw in equal parts from three sectors of the colour wheel. For example, green, orange & purple, these create a balanced feel much like analogous colours. However, it can be hard to find triadic colours which will work with your brand.

Quick Tip: If you want to look outside the more stringent rules of these three areas a great source of inspiration is nature. In nature many colours which do not conform to any theoretical structure can work well and create a harmonious effect. Plant life especially is an excellent source of inspiration, you can often have two very strong colours such as red & green with a third more neutral colour like yellow all work together for a visually pleasing effect.

Why Does Colour Matter?

What does all this amount to? How can we use this to stand out and better promote ourselves? Let’s look at marketing now, and for the purpose of this paragraph we will boil the many complexities, nuances and ideas which make up “marketing” to - getting people’s attention and helping them to develop an emotional reaction to a product or service, with the end result being the purchase of said products/services.

"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 colour alone" (CCICOLOR - Institute for Color Research). The colours we choose to represent our brands and products have a deep impact on the first impressions and initial attention they get from customers. We need that impression to be on the money…

We need to bear in mind a number of factors, who are we looking to attract? How do we want them to fell when they see our branding? For example, if you are promoting something like a professional IT company we want to go for colours which imply the professionalism, that offer a sense of balance and calm – In this case we could go for a white and blue pallet, nothing too abrasive or out there, no aggressive colours, just calm, relaxed and cool. IBM and other tech giants have gone for similar colours which evoke trust and professionalism. Whereas, if we are promoting something for a younger audience which is more edgy, creative and fun, we might go for more punchy, complimentary colours like orange & blue or likewise.

What we have to be careful with, and further proof of how important colour can be… Is that in this world of advertising and digital marketing, certain colours or colour pairings already come with pre-determined company associations… If I were to say yellow & red, it’s likely that the golden arches of McDonalds would unconsciously slip into your mind. Even the colours grey, white & black may conjure images of Apple or NIKE. This is not always a bad thing; we can use these associations to align ourselves with these larger brands, we can use the customers pre-determined notions and make them automatically feel similarly towards our brand.

It is important to have all of these points in mind when we are deciding what colours we want to use to represent our brands. Colour can make or break your promotion, your marketing and your product.

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