A while ago I posted an article on color branding categorizing some general color symbolism theory. It resulted in a discussion over at SU where I was (fairly enough) criticized for looking only at one side of the medal. Really color perception differs from country to country and from niche to niche. Color theory deserves the whole separate blog to cover it and I outlined only some main points. Well, these comments encouraged me to look further into the topic and while it isn’t directly related to SEO or social media I regularly cover, I figured color in branding and web design is an interesting topic worth sharing with my readers.
Color branding: geographic targeting
Color symbolism is very area specific. Color associations vary depending on the national history, traditions and religion. Here is a popular example demonstrating the importance of color research before targeting a new area: when United Airlines expanded the service to Tokyo, their brand color was white. But the company had soon to change it to red, because in Japan, white can be associated with death and mourning.
However not everything is that simple, even within one country one and the same color may evoke quite opposing associations (see ‘red’ that can have both positive and negative associations of courage and sin in the USA).
|Green||sunrise, life and growth (China)
color of eternal life (Japan)
sickness and/or nausea
|fertility and rebirth=> hope|
|Red||expelling demons and illness (Japan)
fire =>honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness; weddings (China)
|guilt or sin;
courage and sacrifice
|Yellow||royalty and respect (China)||jaundice and cowardice in Greece and jealousy in French culture|
|Pink||pornography (Japan)||baby girls|
|Black||nobility, age, and experience (Japan)
trust and high quality (China)
|mourning style and elegance|
|White||mourning and death||purity or innocence|
(Based on ‘Color Meanings Around the World‘ and Colour Journal)
There is no such a thing as ‘universal’ color. Even a positive color like green (associated with Nature and growth in most countries) may denote death in South America and countries with dense jungle areas.
The best (and proven) way to target a specific country is to use its national colors – that always evoke positive associations of something familiar and trustworthy. For example, in Argentina where beer is a very popular product, a company called Quilmes has quickly become #1 due to national color branding (compare) and a more successful Coca Colla competitor in Peru Inca Kola managed to outdo the universal monster only thanks to sticking to the country’s national palette.
Color branding: niche targeting
Color choice in your website or brand logo design may be determined by a niche you are targeting. Again, there is no clear line between using some specific color for a vertical worldwide. For an instance, ‘red’ associated with debt and crisis in the US (e.g. it denotes a drop in stock prices) and hence avoided in ‘finance’ niche, has quite opposite associations in Eastern Asia where it is used to denote a rise in stock prices.
|Blue||Yes (strong association with clean calm water)||Yes (security)||No (indicates lack of experience)||No (denotes calming tranquility)|
|Green||No (unlucky color in Europe and US)||Yes (associated with nature, life and growth)||Yes (association with US dollars and safety)|
|Red||Yes (sexy, speedy, high-energy, and dynamic)||Yes (associated with energy)||No (associated with debt)||Yes (denotes sexuality; e.g. red-light district)||Yes (encourages people to take risks; also paired with yellow)|
|Yellow||Yes (associated with taxi or a school bus)||No (associated with dishonesty, cowardice,
|No (associated with children)||Yes (when paired with red)|
|Pink||Yes (cars for women)||Yes (associated with young girls and youth)||Yes (=feminine)|
|Black||Yes (denotes prestige and luxury (e.g. black limousines))||No (associated with death)||Yes/No (denotes prosperity, e.g. “in the black” but has some clear associations with something ‘bad’ and ‘illegal’)||Yes (denotes sexuality)||Yes (associated with prosperity)|
(Based on ‘color meaning article’)
Color branding: mood
Colors and hues may create certain mood on a psychological level – this is most often a universal color effect used by prominent artists for a long time. The well-known master of playing with colors Vincent van Gogh said he didn’t like expressing what he saw directly, instead he used color to render the mood of the picture. Van Gogh’s painting The Night CafÃ© is the best example of the effect colors (and combination of colors) can make on a person:
â€˜In my picture of the Night CafÃ©, I have tried to express the idea that the cafÃ© is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime.â€™
Here is the painting (do you feel what the artist tried to express?):
Now look what happens if we paint the same piece in blue:
See? There is no more depressing effect you might have felt with burning red and yellow contrasted to green hues. Blue instantly makes the atmosphere calming and refreshing. (You can try more color exercises here)
Today as part of my traditional blog fun, I decided to share a few great color tools to play with.
- Create a color pattern (this seosmarty-header-like color pattern took me only 2 minutes to create):
- Generate a color palette (very helpful when you want to create a design around an image):
This post is intended to be part of Graphic Design Group Writing Project.
Post image: Autumn
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I agree with you. Color is very important for Niche Targeting and Geo Targeting. It is necessary for Every Web Designers to having a knowledge of Color Psychology.
This is really well written and you are totally correct about the importance of choosing colors in branding. Colors can be just as important as picking a name.
I can’t think of a great color example but it’s sort of like the Chevy Nova muscle car of the 1960’s-1970’s. When the American company tried to sell these in Mexico it was a complete failure. What they failed to realize was that nova means “no go” in Spanish. Why would anyone want to buy a car that is a “no go”?
Color palette selection could have the same sort of impact depending on your market. Definitely going to bookmark this post for future reference!
Good luck in the competition! Thanks again for your entry.
Nice post, Ann! Refreshing 🙂
Great article, Wikipedia has a bit more information on color psychology but your matrix sums it up succinctly:
Also, those tools are fantastic, I’ll be messing with them all day!
I never thought of color this way! Great article!
@Kyle: thanks for a great color example!
@andymurd: yep, wiki also has a lot of interesting info on color symbolism. You might also want to check each separate article on each color. Like I said, color is a huge topic, so I didn’t try to cover everything. My aim was to structure basics.
@everyone: thank you for thumbs up!
Great post. It has been a while since I had thought of colors in this way.
What a great way to emphasize the importance of color! As Gunjan Pandya mentioned, color has an absolute relevance to psychology & human attitude & behaivor. The interactiveness of your post is a great way to spice up the blog!
@Hustle: thanks for the stumble! 😉
@Isabella: spicing up the blog was what I actually meant to achieve with the post, so thanks for mentioning this. Sometimes I wonder if I need to make my blog more SEO related or rather keep it entertaining…
Oh Definitely keep it entertaining Ann! There are incredibly too many drab SEO blogs out there…yours was refrshing!
Thanks tons, Isa! At some point I started worrying that it is getting too entertaining, but I do like blogging this way; and I like it when my work is both exciting and useful (well, who doesn’t?). And your comment is enspiring, thanks again for that.
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