Most of us are familiar since elementary school with the mnemonic ROY G. BIV—Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet–the colors of the spectrum.
What you may be less familiar with is the concept that each letter of Mr. Biv’s name—ie, each color—can elicit emotional responses or associations that can help, or hurt, your marketing message.
As a marketer, your goal is to effectively communicate your message. That communication starts with the language you use and includes the graphics and colors you select. By using appropriate color (and using it appropriately) in your designs, you can subtly guide the reader into the emotional state or association you are looking for.
No, it isn’t a cheap parlor trick, and yes, it’s effective. What matters is the culture of the people you are addressing. For after all, society trains us to think and react in certain ways. That group consensus is what makes societies cohesive. To successfully communicate your message you’ve got to think like your intended audience.
For instance, in the US green is the color of nature. If you want to show your company is environmentally aware, you use green in your design. Consider the BP logo which uses green leaves, for heaven’s sake—to very successfully sell gasoline, one of the least environmentally friendly products there is. But in the US, green is also the color of money. Now rethink the BP logo. One color. Two messages. Clever! A visual pun of sorts.
But that same shade of green may mean something entirely different in another society. In Muslim societies, for example, green is the traditional color of Islam. Hence, the emotional response to green is predictably very different. Reverent. Religious. Calm. Sincere.In Ireland, green is suffused with political irony. It can mean patriotism or Catholicism, a tricky interweaving of country and church. Wars have been fought over degrees of greenness.
Complicating your situation as a US-based marketer, is that we live in a great mixing bowl of cultures. Your message may be understood by some and misunderstood by others. Color can be part of the misunderstanding. So can the image itself.
Take flowers as a seemingly innocent example.
In Germany, pink roses mean “We’re engaged” and yellow roses mean “We’re just friends.” Pick the wrong flowers and you could be sending the wrong message. In the Far East, white flowers are funereal, while in the US those same white flowers symbolize purity. In Polynesia, flowers say “married” or “available” depending on the flower and its position in the wearer’s hair.
Choose the wrong flowers or the wrong colors and you’ve just sent a very mixed message, confusing your readers and probably depressing your response rates.
Hence, selecting the right images, and the right colors within those images—can increase the likelihood that your readers “get” your message the way you want them to get it.
Got it? (And to think my parents wondered what I would do with a master’s degree in folklore. Now they know!)
Anyway, here are common US-centric emotional associations with the colors that comprise ROY G. BIV’s name. Earn extra points for thinking of more real life examples!
RED. Passion. Love, but also danger and emergency.ORANGE. Energy, excitement, enthusiasm, but also caution. Can be exhausting if over used.
Valentines, Fire engines, stop signs.
School buses. Warning stripes on Roads.
YELLOW. Happiness. Creativity. Good cheer. Contrast with a dark color to enhance effect.GREEN. Spring. Youth. Vitality. Luck. Fertility. Nature. Money.
Walmart’s smiley face logo.
Every environmentally friendly logo out there.
BLUE. Calmness. Safety. Non-threatening. But also military/patriotism in the US. Universally favorite color. Preferred by men.INDIGO. Royalty. Luxury. Wealth.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield, US Navy.
Royal anything: Royal Caribbean Cruiselines; Royal Canadian Whiskey.
VIOLET. Spring. Gentleness. Youth.
Fabric softeners, cosmetics, soaps.
And for all you factoid-favoring game-show aficionados out there, here are two colors that aren’t true colors at all:
BLACK. (really the absence of all color) Death. Despair. Mourning. But also power, authority, strength, intelligence and sophistication.
The little black dress; tuxedos, limousines, skull & cross bones.
WHITE. (really the presence of all colors) Purity. Cleanliness. Freshness. New beginnings.
June brides, Ivory Snow.