The Science of Colors for Emotional Marketing

You may already know there’s a science or psychology to color but what does it mean to you as a business owner or marketer? How much weight should you place on color in your marketing strategy?

Why is Facebook blue and Starbucks green? The power of color is undeniable. Whether you are conscious of it or not, color influences all of us.

There is ample research to support the influence of color. By understanding the science of colors, you will understand how it can create emotion in your marketing strategy. This will help you make better decisions in your business.

For instance, let’s look at the following statistics on color research conducted by Xerox. The impact of color in marketing and its effectiveness in producing results is undeniable.

  • Color increases reader’s attention spans by 82%
  • Color gains readership by 80%
  • Color makes an impression that is 39% more memorable
  • Color reduces search time by as much as 80%
  • Color reduces errors by 80%
  • Color increases motivation by up to 80%
  • Color increases comprehension by as much as 73%
  • Color increases learning and retention by 78%
  • Color can improve brand recognition by up to 80%

Does color matter? Yes. Color not only creates a certain type of emotion it also brings a certain level of clarity or awareness to a problem. It can help draw attention to certain notices and specific calls to action.  Color can enhance productivity, improve communication and increase business sales performance.  As color influences emotion, it helps bring clarity to a brand and marketing strategy

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Let’s consider Robert Plutchik theory of emotion for a moment. In the 80’s Robert Plutchik, a psychologist, developed a theory of emotion. He created a wheel-like diagram to help illustrate the levels of emotions. Plutchik describes eight basic emotions plus additional derivative emotions with variations on the spectrum. This color wheel of emotions helps to provide insight into why we behave the way we do. According to Plutchik, emotions are not merely a feeling of state but rather the result of a complex sequence of events. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions helps to illustrate these various emotions and their connections.

Plutchik-wheel” by Machine Elf 1735 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Understanding the meaning of color and the levels of emotion can help a business connect a logo or marketing message to their brand story. Color helps represent additional value and purpose to the brand.

Colors generate emotion and in your marketing you want to create the right kind of emotion to help create a positive act of persuasion. To stand out from your competition you want to build trust with your clients. You want to build a mutually beneficial relationship between you and your target audience. It’s definitely not about tricks of persuasion; it is about building the right message for your target audience and the kind of emotion you want to create along with that.

Once you understand how the brain processes color you will have a better understanding of how to apply it to create the right kind of emotion in your marketing. Neuroscience supports this and as business owners and marketers we can learn and apply this in our marketing strategies.

Take, for instance, research conducted by neuroscientist Bevil Conway. His findings support that humans are hardwired to understand certain hues of color and the emotions that come with it. There is a scientific recognition in how we detect color.

Scientists have also found there is a physiological change that takes place when we are exposed to certain colors. Not only do they create emotions but they can also contribute to physical responses such as increased or decreased appetite and feelings warm or cold just by looking at color.

Consider this for yourself. How do you feel when you look at these two pictures?

A cold winter night

Cold winter in Colorado
Source: Pagemodo

A warm sunny morning at the beach

warm sunny beach By Joseph Barrientos
Source: Joseph Barrientos

Artists and interior designers apply the same theory in their work. They understand the powerful impact of colors on mood, feelings and energy. The color in an office for instance should be uplifting and promote productivity.  Artist like Monet have been known to use color to evoke emotion. There is fascinating research and evidence to support this.

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions. – Pablo Picasso

It is important to remember the reaction to color also plays an important role on the individual. Some of this happens at a subconscious level. Whether it is from one’s personal experience or perhaps cultural beliefs, the impact of color can vary greatly.

The reality is we are all different. We think differently and see things differently. Regardless of this, however, research has shown that certain colors do create a sense of common emotions and mood-altering effects.

The human brain is sensitive to understanding the various shades of color but the brain more accurately remembers the primary color categories. For instance, it is unlikely that you would remember and refer to the specific color of ‘olive green’ when you are recalling a particular company brand color. You would more likely remember it was green. You probably wouldn’t remember a color the exact color of azure blue but you would remember it being blue. The same could be said for fuchsia as you would remember it as being pink.

With that in mind, here are the various emotions from the collection of sources and research mentioned in this post that come into play for the following primary and secondary colors BLUE, GREEN, ORANGE, RED, YELLOW, PURPLE.


Colors such as blue, along with others in the blue spectrum such as green and purple, are often used to create a sense of calmness. Blue is mostly connected to nature as we associate it with the blue sky to the blue waters of the ocean. Blue is therefore associated with the feeling of strength yet calmness. In business, blue is associated with productivity, stability and reliability.

Some top industry brands that are blue are: Facebook, Twitter and Skype are all great example of this. In the health industry the Blue Shield is another great example of a brand creating the emotion of calmness and security.


Green is a color that represents health, balance, trust and prosperity. It also represents healing and growth. It is soothing and relaxing and connected to nature. In business green can be associated with reliability, trust, growth and creativity.

Some top industry brands that are green are: Land Rover, Starbucks, Android, John Deere and Whole Foods.


Orange is a color that is often used to draw attention. Orange is great for calls to action (CTA) buttons as it is associated with taking action. Orange is a color of warmth, brightness and happiness. It is refreshing like a juicy orange and can be associated with rejuvenation. Orange is also associated with fall, harvest and the change in season. In business orange can be associated with courage and confidence.

Some top industry brands that are orange are: Harley Davidson, Content Marketing Institute and Home Depot.


Red is a unique color as it seems to have two very strong conflicting meanings. On one end of the spectrum red represents passion and on the other end it can represent anger. The emotion of red in a positive context can generate feelings of strength, life, health and power. The negative context can be associated with emotions of anger and war. Red is also a great color to create urgency, such as a sale. Red stops and makes you think.

Some top industry brands that are red are: Coca-Cola, Target, and Netflix. Also the Canadian Red Cross with slogans such as “You can help when help is most needed” “It’s in you to give.”


Yellow is a bright fun warm color. The golden arches of McDonalds stands strong as being a fun family friendly place. It’s bright and it stands out and is a stimulating color. Like the sun, it brings warmth and makes you want to smile. The color of yellow is a color of brightness and known to be used for optimism.

Some top industry brands that are yellow are: McDonald’s, Hertz and IKEA.


Purple creates emotions of wealth, progress, royalty, creativity and imagination. In the military the purple cross is associated with bravery.

Some top industry brands that are purple are: Hallmark, Cadbury and Marketo.


Looking for images that pair well together?  We created the following Pinterest image inspired by a great blog post by HTML Color Codes on how to search images by color. They came up with the great list of ideas on how to search images by color.

The Science of Colors for Emotional Marketing - Pinterest image


As you can see the emotion of colors can convey many different messages. From warm colors of orange, yellow and red conveying emotions of warmth, love, prosperity and energy. To the cold colors of blue, greens and purples creating emotions of peace, trust, nobility and tranquility. A lot can be gained by understanding the science of colors for emotional marketing.

Remember contrast is good. Just choose your colors wisely with a number of colors that offer the right balance of contrast. For instance, when developing specific calls to action (CTA) the colors should complement each other on the opposite end of the colour spectrum wheel.

Once you’ve found your ideal color selection that generates the right kind of emotion in your marketing message you need to stick with it. Once you do that, you can feel confident in applying science to your marketing strategy and be far more creative with your marketing visuals. Just remember the golden rule in marketing – be consistent with your strategy.

In closing, we would like to leave you with this great infographic by Marketo. What does your brand color say about you and your business?  What colors are you using in your marketing strategy?  See how other businesses are strategically using colors in their branding and how they develop a message that appeals to their audience. Learn from them and see how you can apply the color of emotion to your marketing strategy.

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Creating the right tone and message for your brand is an integral part of your brand and marketing strategy. Knowing the power of color and the emotions color trigger allows you to be a better business owner and marketer for your business.

Whether you consciously thought of color in this way or not, you probably always knew there was a science to why you were attracted to certain colors. Now you understand why.

With this insight what do you plan to do next?

Edited photo - Diana Diana Davies-Harju, Partner, Marketing at InnovaMap

InnovaMap is an Ottawa based content marketing firm, specializing in the health industry.

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