Colour psychology and marketing

“Research reveals that people make a subconscious judgement about a person, environment or product within 90 seconds, and that between 62% and 90% of their assessment is based on colour alone.”
Source: CCICOLOUR – Institute of Colour Research

Colour is a powerful psychological tool. It can cheer us up when we’re down, calm us when we’re nervous, and even energise us when we need motivation. It has a subconscious effect on everything from our mood to our purchase decisions, and it can have a powerful effect on your clients, and the success of your business.

Choosing a colour, or colours, to represent your business is a bigger decision than you might think. When choosing colours for your brand identity, marketing materials and practice interior, rather than simply opting for colours you’re naturally drawn to, it’s advisable to consider the psychology of colour.

Choosing the right colours to promote or decorate your practice can help you to communicate a particular marketing message, generate positive feelings about your business – encouraging sales, for example – or even to calm anxious clients.

The effects of colour vary within different cultures, so it’s worth considering the attitudes and preferences of your target audience when choosing colours to represent your business.

Colour and recognition

According to recent studies carried out in the US, colour has been shown to increase recognition of a brand by up to 80%. It’s easy to see why. What is the first brand you think of when you think of the colour purple? Chances are its Cadbury’s. Try the same with red. Maybe you thought Coco-Cola, McDonald’s or possibly Kit Kat. Colour is so embedded with the identity of many of the brands and household names we know and love, that it’s almost impossible to separate the two.

Research has also proved that colour can help with long-term memory. We’ve all heard the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” – well, it appears that a colourful picture is worth more than a black and white image. According to a 1996 study by Hanna and Remington, colour leads to more accurate recognition than black and white. So if you want your brand to stand out – or you’re keen to improve your recall within your target audience and customer base – think carefully about your use of colour.
Colour influences the way information is processed by the brain, and can help improve the ability to recall both words and pictures (Myers, 2004). A study testing the recall of black and white pictures compared to colour pictures showed that coloured photographs were remembered significantly better, provided the photographs were of natural scenes, and were normally coloured. When the photographs were incorrectly coloured, they weren’t recalled any better than the black and white photographs.

Attention seeking

It’s impossible for the human brain to process every object it sees at once. Take a look at any website, for example – or the cover of a magazine or brochure – and you’ll notice that your eye is drawn to particular areas first. This is often because colour has been used to emphasise or de-emphasise particular areas. Think about the use of red on bills for overdue payments – here colour is used to make you pay attention and take immediate action.

Our nervous system craves stimulation, and without a variety of colours and shapes we easily become bored. Consequently, colour addresses one of our basic neurological needs for stimulation. You can use this knowledge to your advantage when planning the décor of your practice, or selecting colours for your brand.

The meaning of colour

Here are some examples of what colours represent, and brands that use these colours well to aid recognition and familiarity. The list is by no means exhaustive, but the general principles are worth considering when selecting a colour – or colours – to represent your practice. Choose wisely and your business could reap the benefits of colour psychology.


Black is a sombre colour that represents stability, authority and power. It is also associated with elegance and sophistication. In the western hemisphere black is often associated with grieving, while in other parts of the world it is sometimes associated with evil.

Black can be a useful accent colour, but be warned – too much can have a dampening effect on mood.

Brand associated with black: First Direct/Debenhams


White is the colour most closely connected to purity, innocence and cleanliness. It is also used to project the absence of colour, or neutrality. White is a compression of all the colours in the spectrum, and is sometimes associated with creativity (whiteboards, blank canvases, etc). In some eastern parts of the world, white is associated with mourning.

Incorporating areas of white space in your marketing materials can help to create a feeling of space and calm and a welcome reprieve among a mass of facts, figures and information.

Brand associated with white: The White Company


Grey is considered practical, timeless and reliable. Grey can be chic and classic, but be warned – it is sometimes associated with ageing, death, and a lost sense of direction. Grey can work well in conjunction with stronger, brighter colours, such as olive or lime green, or hot pink. Silver – closely connected to grey – is often associated with class and prestige.

Brands associated with grey: Apple/Clarks


Red is dynamic, hot and exciting, and is often used to draw attention. Red is associated with energy, movement and excitement, and is often used to represent love, life and passion.

Use red to attract attention, but avoid overuse, which can stimulate anger as demonstrated by the expression “seeing red”.

Brands associated with red: Coca-Cola/McDonald’s


Pale pink is the most calming of all colours, and has been proved to drain energy and calm aggression. For this reason, dangerous criminals in the US are often housed in pink cells, and some sports teams paint the changing rooms used by the opposing team pink. Often considered feminine, pink is associated with romance, affection and softness. Hot pink is often considered warmer, more passionate and exciting.

Brands associated with pink: BBC Three/T-Mobile


Blue is often cited as being the most popular colour, perhaps because much of the natural world is blue, from the oceans to the sky. Some shades of blue cause the body to produce calming chemicals, while cooler shades can feel cold and unwelcoming.

Blue is a conservative colour, often associated with trust, wisdom and loyalty. Many financial services companies use blue to identify their brand, using the colour to help project an air of responsibility and reassurance. A blue environment can help to improve both focus and productivity.

Brands associated with blue: Boots/Ford


Green is the colour of nature, and is considered calming and peaceful. Synonymous with environmental issues, green is often adopted by businesses looking to portray a caring attitude to the environment. Hospital wards are often painted pale green because the colour helps to calm anxious patients, while guests waiting to appear on television sit in ‘green rooms’ to help them relax.

Green is also associated with envy, good luck and generosity, and is the colour of peace, harmony, and nurturing.

Brands associated with green: BP/Marks and Spencer


Yellow is an optimistic, energising colour, associated with laughter, happiness, sunshine and good times. It has a proven feel-good effect, as the brain releases more serotonin when in a yellow environment.

Yellow can speed up our metabolism and generate creative thoughts. It can be overpowering if overused – studies have proved that babies cry more in bright yellow rooms – but used well it can be an effective tool for generating increased sales. Some shades of yellow are associated with cowardice, but more often yellow is a positive and happy colour.

Brands associated with yellow: AA/Kodak


Orange is associated with energy, warmth and ambition. A vibrant and exciting colour, it has been proven to stimulate appetite. Avoid orange if you are hoping to create a calm environment, but used sparingly – or in conjunction with a more sophisticated colour such as charcoal grey – orange can be eye-catching and inviting.

Brands associated with orange: B&Q/Halfords


Purple is associated with royalty, wealth, prosperity and sophistication. A favourite colour of adolescent girls, purple is also a spiritual, calming colour that can stimulate the brain’s problem solving ability. Overuse of purple is sometimes associated with putting on airs and being artificial, yet careful use can generate a feeling of mystery, wisdom and respect.

Brands associated with purple: Cadbury’s/PC World


Brown is associated with warmth, neutrality and stability. An earthy colour, often found in nature, brown is often associated with wholesome, natural or organic produce. Darkest brown can be used effectively as a softer alternative to black, and is a good colour for definition. In India, brown is the colour of mourning.

Brands associated with brown: UPS/Hovis

Careful use of colour can help to grow your business, increasing awareness within your target audience, and even helping to improve sales. If you’re concerned about choosing the most effective and appropriate colours to make your practice stand out from the crowd, a professional marketing agency can help.

ICP members receive a 10% discount from services provided by Blue Horizons Marketing, a full service marketing agency with over 15 years experience in the dental sector.