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Marketing is a science and an art; simply because marketers sell solutions to other humans. While physically all humans are the same, the process of decision-making that happens in our minds varies drastically. Words, pictures, wants, needs, desires, fears, beliefs, ideologies, preferences, biases, culture, political view, upbringing etc. all play a subconscious role in not only how we see the world but in our purchase decisions and eventual actions. Colours speak in a language that words sometimes cannot replicate. They subconsciously communicate on an emotional level that can either persuade us positively or negatively as to our actions. Colours act as anchors to the stories that words create. It's almost magical in some ways; and it is with this magic that decisions are often made. Poor colour choices can negatively impact your website traffic and interactions; it can stop prospects in their tracks from picking up your product off the retail shelf or walking into your store. However colours aren't limited to evoking certain emotions but also to meet customer expectations from a product or brand. These expectations are sometimes deeply rooted in our biology and social programming. Nature has built into our biological programming that Green is fresh and natural, Red is ripe to eat, etc.


Our world is filled with colour; tints, shades and tones that are almost impossible of the human eye to distinctly differentiate. The use of colours in marketing can become a critical aspect for customers to naturally gravitate to your brand and buy it. A simple colour of Blue can get your customer to see what you want them to see, change how they feel about your brand and even impact their action (i.e. pick up and purchase your product from the shelf). The choice of hues can also affect content readability and usability across mediums. Understanding colour, its meaning and association, its emotional and behavioural anchors could easily become a deciding factor between marketing success and customer indifference.


Unfortunately not all colours are equal in the minds of customers. Their subtle hues, tints and shades play an incredible role in customer perceptions of a brand because they are able to paint pictures in the audience's mind. They can be cool and calming or they can be warm and exciting. For the purpose of this article and in the context of marketing we will avoid getting into too many technical details between the differences of colours that we see in nature (Primary Colours of Red, Blue and Yellow) Vs colours that are printed on mediums (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) Vs colours that we see on screen or monitors (Red, Green and Blue).

Colours Graph1

Primary Colours consists of Red, Blue and Yellow 

Secondary Colours are created through the combination of primary colours 

Tertiary Colours are created through the combination of two colours (i.e. Red & Purple or Red and Orange etc.)

Colours Graph4

Pure colours are colours that are created from primary, secondary and tertiary colours without the addition of white, black or any other colour. Usually pure colours are bold, strong and intense.

Tints are Pure Colours that have white added to them. When white is added it makes the colour appear pastel (i.e lighter, paler in comparison to its pure colour counterpart). 

Shade are Pure Colours that have black added to them. These colours appear darker and duller than their Pure Colour counterparts.

Tones are created when grey (i.e. White and Black) is added to Pure Colours. It is used to bring the intensity of Pure Colours down. 

Colours Graph5

Colour Contrast is the use of two colours that contrast each other (i.e. one colour is cool and the other is warm). The best way to figure out if you have a contrast is by turning the colours into grayscale and review their contrast. Caveat is to remember that not all high-colour contrasts are good for marketing as they become tiring on the eye after a while).  (Graphic)


When choosing colours for your marketing, chose colours that are not too high in contrast (i.e. easy on the eyes); that are from the opposite sides of the colour wheel (i.e. accentuates the colours) and in a 70:30 ratio (preference for the primary colour over the complement colour).

Colours Graph6

Analogous Colours are those colours found side by side in the colour wheel. They are usually pleasing, they aren't jarring or opposing or clashing because they don't stand out against one another. 

Monochromatic Colours are created from a single colour with its tints, tones and shades. They are softer and subtler than analogous colours. When paired with a single complementary colour they can be surprisingly refreshing and attractive. 

Colours Graph7

Choosing your colour palette can become difficult due to personal biases. One way to overcome these biases is to use the the Triad, Tetradic or Square approach. The Triad Choice will give you the most balanced colour choice since it is evenly spaced across the colour wheel.

Caveat: no matter what shape you choose to use, the colours can become visually noisy very quickly; so care must be taken by leveraging the use of Tints, Shades, Tones and Contrasts to even out the rough edges. 

Colours: Their meanings and impact on our preferences and behaviours

Colour means different things to different people due to their culture, religion, politics,  upbringing, gender and age. Colours affect people's mood and can elevate the senses. In advertising and marketing, colour plays an important role as people make subconscious judgements about your brand, product or service within 90 seconds, influenced by the colours that they see. 


Red is a powerful and dynamic colour. Used correctly it reflects our desires, passions and fears. It connotes friendliness, strength, love and life (i.e. Valentine’s Day) . It can be used to demonstrate aggression (i.e. blood in horror movies) and warning/ fear (i.e. Stop Lights at traffic signals). It creates a sense of urgency, is associated with movement, excitement and energy. It can physically stimulate the human body, affect nerve impulses and raise bloodpressure and heart rate. The colour red suggests the form of a square or a tube.


Orange connotes warmth, fun, freedom, physical comfort, food and shelter. It stimulates our appetite, motivates action, demonstrates a positive attitude and enthusiasm towards life. It is commonly seen in food packaging, restaurants, inviting impulse buyers and window shoppers, promoting events and selling board games. The colour orange suggests the form of a rectangle.


Yellow connotes joy, happiness, laughter, optimism, inspiration, confidence, leisure and loyalty. Any emotion that is associated with happiness or lightheartedness is almost always depicted with a yellow. It claims attention the fastest. The colour yellow suggests the form of a triangle (with its apex inverted or upright).


Green connotes balance (logical and emotional). It is the most-seen colour in nature and reflects harmony, life, rest, peace, growth (including wealth), natural and organic. It is used in stores to relax customers, to promote environmental issues and direct decisiveness. It is the second most preferred colour for men and the third most preferred colour for women. The colour green suggests the form of a hexagon as even though it’s a big colour that dominates the eye, it does so without distressing it.


Blue connotes trustworthiness, responsibility, reliability and dependability. It de-stresses, calms you down and forces you to think of the most ideal situation. The caveat is that blue if used excessively it can be seen as distant, cold and unfriendly. It is preferred by men and women, curbs appetite and stimulates productivity. Young people associate blue with maturity so it promotes trust in a brand. The colour blue suggests the shape of a circle or sphere; continuous and seamless.


Purple connotes courage, luxury, loyalty, mystery and magic, spirituality. It soothes the senses and stimulates the problem-solving areas of the brain, giving way to imagination and creativity. It is the second most preferred colour for women. The colour purple suggests the form of an oval; soft, flowing without sharp edges.


Black connotes sophistication, seriousness, independence, luxury and control. Depending on the culture the colour is also associated with evil, mystery and even death. Used correctly it can make other colours stand out and bring in high contrast. It is the third most preferred colour for men. It also gives the feeling of perspective and depth.


White connotes purity, innocence, cleanliness, intelligence and peace. It highlights simplicity and idea creation and is also used to trim down appearance in sizes of items.  When used excessively it can connote isolation, loneliness or even emptiness.


ConclusionThe innumerable ways that colours influence and impact the perceptions of how we see the world around us aren't always obvious and not always logical. Our associations with colour vary greatly depending on our cultural background and personal tastes that develop and modify over our lifetimes.


Unfortunately there are no 'best' marketing colours that brands can use to achieve instant success or market domination. In the kaleidoscope of colours it is nearly impossible that we will ever have a definitive answer.


Choosing colours for your brand and its communication isn't just about what looks good to you. Keep in mind the brand image that you are trying to create, the cultural context of your product or service, the socio-economic drivers of your audience and the competitive landscape in which your business operates.

Additional Reading: Product Packaging Design

Trigger Worldwide is a Brand Marketing Agency, built specifically for businesses to create Sustainable Growth. Our proprietary tools and process methodologies harness Technology, Creativity & Innovation, leverage Economic Drivers and Consumer Beliefs to help businesses overcome marketing inefficiencies and achieve their Growth Agendas.


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