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Psychological Effects Of Colors And Advertising Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4168 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Color” is defined as the quality of an object or substance with respect to light reflected by the object, usually determined visually by measurement of hue, saturation and brightness of the reflected light. Indeed, a definition to make Einstein proud!

However, advertisers & marketers have a different definition for color- it’s a vibrant variable in their strategy that makes & sells their products. Usage of colors goes on since centuries, earlier color was significant in cultures and traditions (white for a bride, black for a widow); today, it’s a different story; it is used to portray various emotions such as love, lust, anger, happy, envy, melancholy, greed, mystique and so many more.

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Color has been said to increase a person’s recognition of a brand by over 75%, so it is no surprise that a lot of companies use it in their advertising. They know that people react to color and that it evokes emotions that words and images sometimes cannot achieve. The reaction to colors, although sometimes more subtle than others depending on the person, is basically uniform all across society, at least within a country. From country to country there are different perceptions of color, and these have to be taken note of because merchandisers can make serious mistakes with color in advertising if they fail to pay attention to what color means to various societies and cultures.

Another interesting factor is that, color is the first communication aid used by human race. Only humans can identify colors, which differentiate human from other animal kingdom. These two factors add to the need for the visual effect and impression on the human mind, which gives the product an initial attraction.

Companies have discovered the power of colors and have used it extensively. In the 60’s and 70’s, when color advertising was possible, companies were recognized because of their products, thus, identifying a product by their color.

The proverb, “A picture speaks a thousand words” was why companies went for press, coffee cup advertising, billboards and so many more, before the digital video advertisements were possible. Innovation of technology allowed color advertising- and as a result: color brought life to an advertisement- which definitely drew attention of the consumers.

As mentioned before, color is a variable in advertising that can make the product more and more appealing as colors have symbolism and color meanings that go beyond ink. Let’s have a detailed look to understand.

Colors and Their Meanings

Color is sure to play a key role in the success of a venture. After all, it’s pretty much the first thing consumers will notice, making color the best – and sometimes only – chance to get a message across.


Red is the most vibrant and powerful of colors since studies have shown that it’s the first color babies recognize, and one that continues to appeal to most people throughout their childhood and into their adult lives. It is the color of fire and blood, so it’s associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. Other than that, Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage and that is why the color is found in many national flags.

Red brings text and images to the foreground. It is used to stimulate people to make quick decisions and hence, is a perfect color for ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons on Internet banners and websites. In advertising, red is often used to evoke erotic feelings (red lips, red nails, red-light districts, ‘Lady in Red’, etc). Red is widely used to indicate danger (high voltage signs, traffic lights).

Light red represents joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity, and love. 

Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice, and wrath.


Although it derives from red, pink has little of its big brother’s forceful qualities. In fact, although it’s usually perceived as a warm and fairly upbeat color, it is, of course, popularly associated with femininity and even passivity. A cliche, perhaps, but its vigor-reducing reputation has again been shown to have some basis in fact. Since pink does induce at least a temporary sensation of calm makes it a powerful factor in the color-coordinated approach to advertising.

Its peaceful, relaxing qualities and general evocation of comfort and softness have long made it a favorite for items such as toilet paper, cotton wool and ‘gentle on the skin’ toiletries, especially baby lotions. This association could possibly be explored further as a background or accent color for items where comfort is key area, such as bedding, sofas or carpets.

There’s one other area in which pink has an interesting effect- It’s well known that a high concentration of color in foodstuff which will lead consumers to believe they’re tastier, or even identify a flavor that isn’t actually present, and pink coloring is a particularly effective way of suggesting sweetness.


Occurring naturally as a sign of plant growth and renewal, green is one of those colors that are universally seen as positive, fresh and fertile. It’s also a color that, once again, produces noticeable physical effects. It’s the easiest color for the eye to assimilate and therefore one of the most relaxing; it induces feelings of calm and restfulness, and can even improve vision. In short, it’s a very positive color indeed. Green, as opposed to red, means safety and thus, it is the color of free passage in road traffic.

Wholesome, healthy food items are likely to be quickly identified as such is due to the predominant use of green, and the same can be said for products or services associated with any type of healing, spirituality, or personal growth: yoga, slimming programs, alternative medicines. Dull, darker green is commonly associated with money, the financial world, banking, and Wall Street.

Dark green is associated with ambition, greed, and jealousy.

Yellow-green can indicate sickness, cowardice, discord, and jealousy.

Aqua is associated with emotional healing and protection.

Olive green is the traditional color of peace.


It is considered to be the color of perfection, since considered a non-color to which nothing has been added, and therefore the white is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection. White is associated with hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you can use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products.

White is often associated with low weight, low-fat food, and dairy products. In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it’s the color of snow. White can be used to suggest simplicity in high-tech products.


According to research, Brown, along with blue, is consistently voted a favorite color by men. And why not? Solid, earthy, dependable; it might lack the zing of the brighter primaries, but it resonates with a sense of trustworthiness and dependability. An interesting off-shoot of all this earnestness is the fact that brown is often claimed to be a highly ‘believable’ color, too. In other words, it’s more likely to add credibility to an advertising message – an important factor if your communication makes claims that may seem extravagant.

Brown suggests stability and denotes masculine qualities.

Reddish-brown is associated with harvest and fall.


Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.

Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.

You can use blue to promote products and services related to cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids, and vodka), air and sky (airlines, airports, and air conditioners), water and sea (sea voyages, mineral water). As opposed to emotionally warm colors like red, orange, and yellow; blue is linked to consciousness and intellect. Blue is used to suggest precision when promoting high-tech products.

According to studies, blue is a masculine and is highly accepted amongst males. Dark blue is associated with depth, expertise, and stability.

Light blue is associated with health, healing, tranquility, understanding, and softness.

Dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.


Yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. Bright, pure yellow is an attention getter, which is the reason taxicabs are painted this color, or the color of post-its. When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect; it is known that babies cry more in yellow rooms. Yellow is seen before other colors when placed against black; this combination is often used to issue a warning. In heraldry, yellow indicates honor and loyalty. Later the meaning of yellow was connected with cowardice.

Use yellow to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings. You can choose yellow to promote children’s products and items related to leisure. Yellow is very effective for attracting attention, so use it to highlight the most important elements of your design. And finally, while it’s a color that can be used to market most products to women – from washing up gloves to expensive scents – Men usually perceive yellow as a very lighthearted, ‘childish’ color, so it is not recommended to use yellow when selling prestigious, expensive products to men – nobody will buy a yellow business suit or a yellow Mercedes.

Dull (dingy) yellow represents caution, decay, sickness, and jealousy. 

Light yellow is associated with intellect, freshness, and joy.


Although in western culture the color black certainly holds several negative linguistic connotations (black magic, black market) it’s also very positively associated with authority, prestige and exclusivity (black tie event, black credit card, black Mercedes).

A slightly confusing message, but in general, black can be used very effectively to denote cool sophistication and a powerful sense of extreme luxury or expense.

Pair this with the fact that visually, it’s a color that creates a real sense of depth while also focusing the attention more completely than white, and black makes an ideal backdrop for images of luxury goods or services such as high-end hotels. Men seem to respond particularly well to such a combination – perhaps because it’s also been shown that for males, black is a color with marked erotic overtones (combine it with red and you’re onto a testosterone-charged winner that’s bound to attract male attention!)


With Its combination of energetic reds and feel-good yellows, orange is a color that’s clearly suggestive of fun, warmth and pleasure. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. And like its constituents, orange exerts an invigorating effect by increasing oxygen to the brain and stimulating mental activity. It’s therefore an excellent choice for any product associated with energy and vigor, such as sporting equipment or services, adventure holidays, theme park rides, energy drinks.

To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Nevertheless, orange is not as aggressive as red. Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an invigorating effect, and stimulates mental activity. It is highly accepted among young people. As a citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance. Orange has very high visibility, so you can use it to catch attention and highlight the most important elements of your design. Orange is very effective for promoting food products and toys.

Dark orange can mean deceit and distrust.

Red-orange corresponds to desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression, and thirst for action.

Gold evokes the feeling of prestige. The meaning of gold is illumination, wisdom, and wealth. Gold often symbolizes high quality


Mysterious, alluring, and very definitely regal, purple is a relatively uncommon color in nature. In the ancient world, its scarcity meant that it was highly valued, and rare, expensive purple dyes were used exclusively by nobility. 

This association with wealth and prestige remains to this day, making purple, especially in its darker shades, an excellent complement to luxury items.

In fact, the association with expense is so strong that it can even be used to add a touch of instant class to cheaper products. For example, a bus company using purple livery would almost certainly be perceived as more luxurious than one using orange. The risk here, though, is that the consumer’s perception of comparative price might also rise accordingly – even if fares are identical.

Light purple evokes romantic and nostalgic feelings.

Dark purple evokes gloom and sad feelings. It can cause frustration.

Psychological Effects of Color in Advertising

There’s no doubt that colors have an effect on the human mind. So much so that some companies go to an extent to employ psychologists to find the right combination for the product or service.

For example: Notice the color used in hospitals is always a lighter shade, thus promoting calmness and healing.

Colors have an impact on almost all aspects of our lives; each color has its own attributes in the minds of its viewers.

Research has showed that about 60 – 70 percent of buying decisions are made at the point of purchase. As there are so many products in the market, color is one of the best ways to gain the attention of consumers. Most consumers are in an emotional state of mind when they shop, in this state they are more visually effected.

We tend to remember longer a message printed in color rather when it just black and white.

Colors Used in Logos and Products

A Logo is a symbol or design that represents the identity of the business or organization.

A logo has two main roles functions, mainly to provide identity of the company and a memorable impression (good/bad) in the minds of the consumers.

Often the terms “Brand” and “Logo” are considered the same. A brand does not have a standard definition, but generally refers to the identity of you, company, product or service, while a logo is a graphical image of the company.

There is no doubt that it takes time, money and effort when creating them, but if done with perfection and innovation, then the end results/future would be rewarding.

Now we’ll describe the basic primary colors (red, green and blue) used in Logos.

Red Logos and Products:

Above are some companies which use red as their main color in their logo. The color red is associated with blood, danger, power and energy. In terms of emotions we would consider desire, passion and love mainly.

Research has found out that red is the very first color that babies recognize at the time of birth. This might reminds us of the beginning of life, thus creating a strong recognition to the color red.

Further, studies have showed that the color red might cause certain physical changes in our body, namely high blood pressure and an increase in our respiration rate.

Finally to sum it up, the color red would make us feel energetic, tense, lively, hungry, dynamic, warm, passionate and powerful.

Companies that use red in their logos and products:

ESPN the Entertainment and Sports Networking Program uses red to signify energy, power, action, adventure and liveliness.

Virgin: The Virgin group has its main businesses in entertainment, travel and lifestyle. It uses red to signify passion and love.

Companies in the food and beverage industry (like KFC, Mc Donald, Pizza Hut, Chillys & Coco Cola) use the color red to increase appetite.

Toyota a major player in the automotive industry uses red to signify energy or effective action. (Dynamics)

Green Logos and Products:

The color green is created by a mixture of blue and yellow. The word green evolved from an old English verb growan (meaning “to grow”) which relates to plants and nature. The color green has relaxing attributes like that of the color blue.

The color has two main effects, namely the warming and cooling effect. It also reflects stability and balance. However, the color also has a negative message, as it is often related to as jealousy, sickness, inexperience, envy and even the devil.

Companies that use Green in their Logos and Products:

Land Rover: An automotive company tries to send a message of an environmentally friendly vehicle.

BP: One of the top players in the oil industry, also send a similar message of being environmentally friendly, the logo also shows a flower, which could signify growth and sustainability.

Tic-tac: A popular breath mint company uses a green logo which suggests that its product is fresh with a lasting effect.

Heineken: A Dutch brewing company uses the color green both in its logo as well as its products, which sends a message of freshness.

Starbuck: An international Coffee and Coffeehouse supply chain uses a darker shade of green which implies the product is of superior quality and yet calming.

Blue Logos and Products:

Blue is one of the primary colors, it’s associated with being calm and cool. It also associated with clear thinking, cleanliness, care and sophistication. It is a color which can be used with almost any kind of product/service apart from food.

Companies that use Blue in their Logos and Products:

Unilever: A multinational company that owns many of the world’s consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. It uses a navy blue color in its logo to signify intelligence, stability, unity, and conservatism.

Durex: A condom company, which uses two shades of blue, light blue on top signifying pleasure/fun and a darker shade of blue signifying seriousness, excellence and reliability.

Intel, IBM & Dell: Are the major companies that manufacture hardware. They all use blue which signifies power, intelligence and complexity.

Panadol: A company who manufactures paracetamol uses blue on its logo as well as on its products as it signifies care and relaxation.

Controversies relating to Color in Advertising

Controversial advertisements usually circle around crucial topics such as religion, sex and culture. The company’s (such as MTV and United Colours of Benetton) who choose to promote their product through controversial advertisements try to concentrate on particular issues like, for example racism or terrorism for that matter. Even the industry for clothing and cosmetics is time and again criticized for depicting a lot of sexual undertone in its advertisements.

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Few of the advertisers whose products by nature are controversial like for example condoms, cigarettes and alcohol always gets negative responses for their product. These kinds of products are sometimes also known as unmentionables, which means that these products tend to go against the morality and decency of the society and people have a tendency to react with disgust and distaste. A controversial subject is often raised in the direction of the advertiser’s objective or manner of approach in regards to the target market that they are trying to get in touch with.

The main problem that the Industry needs to tackle is the fact that many of the ads are related to sex, power and success fantasies. This is the part where it becomes difficult for the advertisers and where the censorship factors are screening their value. Here are some examples of controversial advertisements.


These are some of the many controversial adverts by United Colors of Benetton. The first add about clothing depicts a military uniform saturated in blood. This not a typical clothing add campaign. This advertisement is committed to spark communication towards the consumer, but the problem is that, this advert is unethical and disrespectful to market this theme to the consumer. Many children will be seeing this advert which will make them believe that this is fashionable in society. These pictures should not be out in public and companies shouldn’t be making profit out of it.

In the second advert, United Colors of Benetton tried to aggravate communication on the stereotypes of good and evil in which the white girl is portrayed as an angel and the African boy is shown as the devil. It is insulting to stereotype the African boy with the hair shaped like devils horn and is very offensive to the people watching this advert. This advert can also be classified as a racist advert, which is bias towards the white people showing that they are always the good people and superior in the society. This advert lacks sensitivity and moral values which it is supposed to follow.


This advert has caused a lot of controversy around the world; Sony is in hot waters because of this advert. The advert is actually trying to show that there is a different color model which is white, is coming soon in the market. It shows that white looks much more superior than black. It depicts white PSP avatar is violently holding the mouth of black avatar. This advert depicts racism and dominance of the white over black. Sony has used a wrong strategy to market its upcoming product.


This advert has created a lot of controversy among the Catholic community. This advert shows the handsome priest is with his shirt off while the nun is submitting to the temptation. This advert is actually trying to show that the ice cream is so good that it’s tempting the people who would never behave sexually in a normal situation to behave in an inappropriate way. This advert hurts the religious and moral beliefs of the people; the color black has not been depicted in the right way in this advert. This advert mocks the religion altogether. This advert is demeaning to people in religious vocations and showing nuns in a sexual manner is not a religiously right thing to do.


In conclusion, color does indeed matter – 80% of visual information is related to color. We have clearly learned that colors are more than a combination of red, blue, yellow or black. They are means of non-verbal communication which is functional and it subliminally and overtly communicates information and provides many other operational benefits.

Organizations have learnt the power of colors, the advantages of using colors correctly in the advertisements or, as we have seen, by abusing the powers of color and facing the public outrage. Nonetheless, organizations have used it very effectively. Companies with upcoming products, have to think about their target market, and determine what emotion will appeal to the audience, and then choose the color accordingly.

Every color in the universe speaks to us in its own language; all we have to do is be open to what they say to us, what they make us feel. As color manipulates people’s actions through the various influences in society, whether it be media, art or interaction with others, it creates a powerful force that becomes the foundation for everyday living.


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