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The Psychology of Design: The Color Red in Marketing & Branding

The Psychology of Design: The Color Red in Marketing & Branding Blog Feature

Ashleigh Respicio

Jr. Strategist, Web Project Manager, 7+ years of Web Design Experience, 5+ Years of Digital Marketing Experience

February 27th, 2019 min read

In the marketing world, color is integral to what we do.

Countless hours are spent deliberating color palettes and design layouts because choosing the wrong ones can have detrimental effects on how consumers interact with your product and/or brand.

The colors used in packaging can draw consumers in to purchase a product off the shelf just as the colors on a website can guide users to explore the website deeper.

Color is used by consumers to distinguish a brand from one another and by marketers to establish emotion to support the message of the copy on a package or a website.

Red, possibly more than any other color, is extremely powerful in doing this, but before we get too deep into specifics.

Let’s explore how color affects emotion.


There are three primary color/emotional categories to consider when selecting colors for design in marketing: warm, cool, and neutral.

Blue, greens, and purples are colors in the cool category and typically evoke emotions of professionalism, authority, and trust. This is why many corporations and financial institutions select cool colors in their branding.

cool-logoNeutral colors are often used as secondary colors in branding or design. These colors include white, grays, browns, or black and can be used to “tone down” colors that may otherwise feel overpowering.

neutral_website-design

 

Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange bring emotions of joy, happiness, energy, and heat.

warm-example

 

Colors in the warm category are used often to uplift consumers for charities or other subjects that may otherwise cause someone to feel down.

They are also used to draw attention, especially on websites when you want to inspire action through something like a call-to-action.

netflix-cta

 

Speaking of Red...

What makes red unique is the array of emotions it can evoke.

As mentioned above, red is categorized as a warm color, which evokes the feeling of warmth, energy, and attention.

There are many prevalent uses of the color red that our society matches to specific emotions. For example,  red hearts on Valentine’s Day meaning love or the cross in the Red Cross logo signifying aid and support.

american-red-cross-logo-png-red-cross-logo-arc-png-free-downloads-logo-brand-emblems-2506

Red is also a common color on nationals flags around the world to represent pride or patriotism.

The color is also used to signify negative emotions or strong commands.

Often teachers use a red pen to indicate an incorrect answer on a test or horror films use red in their branding to express fear.

the-shining logo

Additionally, red is used almost as the color associated with STOP.

Recognizing the two very different sides of the emotional spectrum red can evoke, it is important to understand how to use the color effectively and ensure the emotion evoked is the emotion intended.

 

How to Make Red Evoke the Right Emotions for You

 

When using red, there are a few tactics to help keep the intention of the color clear.

One such tactic is to adjust the tone of the color by using lighter tones of red for a more feminine, softer emotion and darker for a more fiery, authoritative emotion.

Due to this extreme contrast of emotion that a specific tone of red can be, we often see lighter tones of it used in larger sections of websites or as a subtle background color whereas the darker tones of red are used sparingly in graphic elements, in text to accentuate a word/phrase, or as the primary CTA color to spark action.

(See examples below of websites that use red as action cues rather than a primary design color.)

Another tactic to soften the use of red with a complementary color to help convey your message.

Pairing red with cool or neutral colors help tone down its intensity while contrasting colors, such as yellow, balance and support the emotion of the color.

 

Successful Uses of Red in Marketing and Branding

Now that we have a greater understanding of how to use red in branding and design, let’s explore how these colors are being used really well.

Logos

In the logos below, you will see how the color red is used in different tones to evoke different emotions from the consumer.

  1. RedBull: The use of red in RedBull’s logo and branding is spot on with their message. RedBull is an energy drink and the color red evokes just that, energy and strength.

    1200px-RedBullEnergyDrink.svg

  2. Airbnb: As mentioned above, shades of pink evoke a more feminine emotion as well as love and belonging which was the intention of Airbnb in their 2014 rebrand. While some aspects of the rebrand caused some controversy, the color chosen is consistent with the mission of the organization.

    airbnb

  3. (RED) : The non-profit Red’s use of the color is the most interesting of the three logos presented here because the color is meant to represent several emotions. The first evokes action to support the cause, the second awareness to bring attention to the cause of AIDS, and the other is urgency or almost urgency, considering the serious nature of the cause.

    red_logo

 

Websites

  1. HireLevel: The use of red in the HireLevel website evokes action and courage. Red is used strategically throughout the website to prompt action from their visitors, while at the same time the complementary color blue is used to tone down the red. NOTE: the blue is also used for the Company persona to evoke trust.

    hirelevel_red-blue

  2. Kaber Techologies: This example uses the color red sparingly and intentionally throughout the website. Here again, red is used to draw attention to key messages or areas requiring action.

    kabertech
  3. Red: Although used in the logo example as well, the Red website provides an excellent illustration of the use of red with neutral colors to help diffuse negative connotations with the color and evoke emotions of courage and attention.red-website_CTA

 

When to Avoid Using Red

The above examples illustrate how the color red can be used to inspire action and positive action.

However, there are some things that could evoke negative emotions or unintentional connotations.

  1. While pairing red with complementary color will help to balance the color within the design, there are some colors that, when paired with red have meaning stronger than the brand or organizing the design may be for (i.e. Red and green = Christmas, Red and yellow = McDonald’s). Keep these in mind when choosing your pairings.

  2. Not only is the use of red and green too close to major color associations, it is also a very difficult color combination for individuals with vision impairments.

  3. The use of too much red can be overbearing on the eyes and if a website or branding material is primarily red, the consumer may interpret the design as a warning or cautionary message rather than its original intention.

  4. There are specific industries where the color red is prominent due to the emotion the color evokes. These industries include restaurants to stimulate appetite, travel sites to evoke energy and curiosity, and nonprofits to promote action and passion. Industries, where red is generally avoided due to association with emotions such as fear and danger, include finance, medical, airlines.

Keep in mind, the above points are general “rules of thumb” and there are exceptions. Perhaps you are going for a Christmas vibe, for instance.

In the End, Use Red Responsibly

Overall, using the color Red in branding and design could impact your marketing efforts when following the guidelines and examples above. The most significant and powerful use of the color is in areas of the website where an action is needed, such as a CTA.

As a rule of thumb, use red sparingly and intentionally, know the common connotations the use of red has in your industry, and pair with a complementary color to help “tone down” the intensity of the color. Following these general guidelines will help to create branding or website design.

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