The Psychology of Colour & How it Impacts Branding – featured in EE Publishers’ Vector Magazine

This article explores the perception of colour across cultures and highlights the use of colour in corporate branding.

Never underestimate the importance of selecting the right colour to represent a brand. Every colour used in branding has a psychological link or message. It is, however, very important to remember that these psychological links can differ from culture to culture; bear this in mind if you do business in different geographical regions and with people of different cultural backgrounds. Fig. 1 shows a summary of well-known brands and the colours representing them.

We now turn to the individual colours used predominantly in branding.


Red captures attention. It generally represents creativity, adventure, excitement, enthusiasm, success and balance. Think about the logos of successful companies such as ABSA; Avis; Cell C; CNN International; Coca-Cola; Kelloggs; Lego; Virgin and Vodacom.

Fig. 1: Colours, their interpretations and use in corporate branding.

Some lighting designers and marketers think splashes of orange do the same as red, but orange is proven to be nowhere as attention commanding as red. Orange is often identified with creativity and playfulness. Some companies that use orange in their logos include Amazon; Bic; Fanta; Payless and the University of Johannesburg.


Yellow draws attention to sunshine, happiness, optimism, summer and cheerfulness, but it can also mean warning, deceit and even distrust. It can also be interpreted as clarity and warmth. Company logos using yellow include Builders Warehouse; Chevrolet; DHL; Ferrari; Hertz; MacDonalds; MTN (although combined with blue and white); Murray and Roberts; Shell and Subway.


Blue represents the sea and the sky. Psychologically, it represents stability, harmony, peace, calm and trust.

Some of the well-known brands using the colour blue are Dell; Facebook; First National Bank; HP; Oral B; Sappi; Standard Bank and Telkom.


Green is strongly associated with nature and money. It is linked to growth, fertility, health and generosity.
Companies who make good use of the colour green include Berocca; John Deere; Milo; Nedbank; South African National Parks; Spotify; Trees South Africa and WhatsApp.


Black is used very often in the logos of retailers. This is because the colour black represents mystery; power; elegance; intrigue and sophistication in Western society. This is also the reason why some retailers use black-and-white photographs to promote products or for their lifestyle banners in-store.

Brands using black in their branding include Apple; BMW; Chanel; Monster; Taste Holdings; Weber and Woolworths.


We all recognise that brown is an earthy colour and it takes us back to the soil, wood, sand and stone. It can also be interpreted as taking us back to our roots and nature.

It is not easy to identify companies who use brown in their logos. Nescafe uses different shades of brown for their coffees. Other companies include the Minerals Council of South Africa (formerly the Chamber of Mines); Discovery Medical Aid; Egoli Textiles; Nespresso and UPS.


The colour pink is associated with femininity, playfulness, immaturity and love. Retailers like Toy Kingdom; Toys R Us; Hamleys Toy Shop; Toy Factory Shop and Toy Zone use the colour pink to identify the group of children for whom the toy is intended. In line with the colour’s association with femininity, brands using pink in their logos include Barbie, Charlie and Victoria’s Secret.


White, the traditional colour of a wedding dress, signifies purity, innocence, goodness, cleanliness and humility.

Some examples of companies that use white in their logos are Adidas; Asics; Nike; Showmax; Sygnia (black lettering on a white background); Tsogo Sun; Uber and Woolworths (black lettering on a white background).

Fig. 2: Colours and their interpretations across cultures.


Purple has long been associated with royalty and religion. It should therefore come as no surprise to learn that purple is associated with power, nobility, luxury, wisdom, old age and spirituality. This symbolism is used by companies such as Cadbury Dairy Milk; Hallmark; Hollard and Yahoo.


Grey is a neutral colour. It has no particular meaning and is better associated as simply a shade between black and white. Examples of companies that use grey as the dominant part of their logo are Naspers; Apple and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

Colour across cultures

Fig. 2 reflects some extreme differences in meaning of colours across cultures. Notice the colour red: In the West, red traditionally reflects danger, love and passion but, in Asia, it denotes happiness, joy and celebration. In Latin America, it implies, religion and passion while, in the Middle East, it reflects danger, caution and evil.


We take for granted our perception of colour, but colour is in fact far more complex. Lighting design students learn about the absorption, reflection and transmission of light. They understand that a negative effect resulting from absorption is an increase in surface temperature. Even this will vary according to the characteristics of the material upon which the light falls.



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