Think of a famous brand, such as McDonald’s. McDonald’s is known for its yellow arches over a red background. What happens if you take those colors away, or replace them with others? Color theory is a widely-known, but often disputed, tool in marketing that aims to answer this question. Many people believe in the effects colors have on us, while others disagree. Regardless of who is right, color is a crucial part of branding, and it is important to make sure the colors we choose send the right message.
For example, T-Mobile made the bold decision years ago to choose pink as their official color. Head into any T-Mobile store, and I bet they will have at least one pink wall. Then, consider three other major competitors: AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. These three companies each use one of three primary colors to represent their brand. What else do they have in common? These companies operate similarly, with cell phone plans that usually require a contract. T-Mobile, however, is known for being a contract-free cell provider. As it turns out, pink may have been a purposeful choice, as it stands out from its competitors, just as T-Mobile’s company does.
However, there is much more to color than standing out. I previously mentioned McDonald’s, which uses red as one of its staple colors. This company isn’t alone in its messaging, as other fast food chains (Wendy’s, Chick-Fil-A, KFC, etc.) also use red to convey a message to their consumers. Red is known to induce hunger, which, of course, these companies want. When you drive down the street and see the big red logo, you’re more likely to want a burger than you would if the sign was neon green.
Color can even carry over into food itself. Let’s use a cupcake as an example. A yellow cupcake already makes our brain think of vanilla, while a brown cupcake translates to chocolate. But what happens if you take a yellow cupcake and turn it blue? Food dye can do this without changing the flavor, but we no longer have a preconceived notion that the cupcake will be vanilla. Instead, we may expect it to be blueberry or blue raspberry, or some other blue flavor. Color can defy our expectations, but it is not always effective.
Finally, let’s look at Apple. Apple is known for its logo, but have you ever noticed that the logo is always produced in grayscale? You’ll almost never see a modern Apple logo in color, which is entirely purposeful. The Apple brand is minimalistic in every way, from its phone design to its website. It makes sense that the logo would be just as minimalistic. This is one of the most interesting case studies, because it goes to show that, although color is important, a lack of color can be just as effective.
So how does this affect you? If you are an entrepreneur, you will at some point need to create a logo, as well as other branding materials. Make sure to choose a color that is representative of your company’s goal and attitude. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box, but make sure to use the basic rules of color to choose the right colors to represent you.