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Elegant or Evil? Colors Communicate

February 7, 2011

Pantone Reveals Color of the Year for 2011:
PANTONE 18-2120 Honeysuckle

“In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®.

And that’s why the color is also one of the colors featured on the Pantone Visa series. Because, heck, if you can’t afford it, charge it. Now isn’t that uplifting?

In marketing, colors do indeed have a science behind them. But due to the subjective nature of preferences, cultural differences, etc. the science behind color meanings is not perfect. Let’s use Pantone’s color of the year as an example. Perhaps you’ve just been released on good behavior from the state penitentiary and the pink hue is a bit too reminiscent of “prison pink.” Uplifting and stress relieving? Probably not.

While imperfect, Smashing Magazine has a great online article about the general guidelines associated with color meaning and potential pitfalls. The article concludes with a simplified list, that although not enough information alone for your decision on what colors to use, is a great place to start.

  • Red: Passion, Love, Anger
  • Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality
  • Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit
  • Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature
  • Blue: Calm, Responsible, Sadness
  • Purple: Creativity, Royalty, Wealth
  • Black: Mystery, Elegance, Evil
  • Gray: Moody, Conservative, Formality
  • White: Purity, Cleanliness, Virtue
  • Brown: Nature, Wholesomeness, Dependability
  • Tan or Beige: Conservative, Piety, Dull
  • Cream or Ivory: Calm, Elegant, Purity

Your marketing “message” goes beyond the words you use. Before you even get to open your mouth, the color scheme you have developed for your organization communicates something about you. Was McDonald’s just thinking ketchup and mustard when it developed its corporate colors or do you buy the psychology of yellow’s tie to feelings of happiness and red’s to encouraging hunger?

This blog from Pixel Dreams provides great examples of some of the most recognizable logos in the world and some of the potential psychology behind the colors the use. Along with all the reasons to choose a color, be sure you also consider the reasons you may want to set it aside. One of those reasons includes over-use within your segment.

If you work in insurance, especially car insurance…no matter how calm and assuring the color blue is, be sure your company can still be identified, or blue will just equal sad for you.

If you must go with blue, at the very least, use the 2010 Pantone of the Year, turquoise.

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