by Adrienne Erin
Why are we drawn to some colors more than others? Well, it depends upon who you ask. Although any subject will suggest a variety of nuanced opinions, there tend to be two dominant lines of thought regarding color preference. The first is a bit more commercial: a belief that there are set associations for each color that generally evoke the same response from all consumers. The second is far more personal: our color preferences are determined by our past experiences with objects, places or creatures of the same hue. As usual, the truth tends to lie somewhere in the middle.
Common, widespread associations for the primary — red, yellow, blue — and secondary — orange, green, purple — colors are easy to identify. Most of us, without much thought, can list emotions or characteristics typically associated with these colors — both positive and negative.
Red can evoke passion and romance; it can also signify anger or embarrassment. Orange can signal danger; it can also symbolize youth or enthusiasm. Yellow is at times cheerful or cowardly. Green may represent wealth or nature; it can also denote greed or envy. Blue can symbolize calm and peace, yet it can also represent depression. Purple can make us feel royal or beautiful; it can also be associated with pain and injury.
Advertising experts know — and use — every nuance of color association when marketing their products and services. Even though many consumers are at least marginally aware of color association, we still respond instinctively to the color/product pairings presented to us:
- Red helps spark our appetites, an association used by a majority of fast food and restaurant chains: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, Red Robin, etc.
- A welcoming, trustworthy, dialogue-inspiring color, blue is frequently used for social endeavors like Skype, Facebook and Twitter.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. These color associations are tried and true, and will likely be used to influence our purchases for years to come.
However, while these overarching connections seem universal, our varied and specific personal experiences make universal association impossible.
Did your parents keep you at the table for hours — and deny you dessert — until you’d finished your peas? Have a recurring nightmare involving mustard-colored clowns? Did you spend your summers trapped in your babysitter’s old-lady-perfume-drenched, stuffy, mauve sitting room?
Negative experiences can continue to impact your thoughts and reactions long after the situation in question has passed. And, whether we realize it our not, those experiences often translate into sensory associations. The less than pleasant examples above won’t just result in a long-term distaste for peas, a fear of clowns or a strong resolution to never over do it on your perfume. Those experiences are likely to also affect how you respond to the colors connected to that experience — green, yellow or purple.
Conversely, positive experiences can also translate into positive color associations. The color of your first car, a favorite childhood toy, or even a pet collar can forever impact how you view a color. Fido’s blue collar might be why you subconsciously think people wearing blue are friendly, trustworthy and loyal. Red products might catch your eye — and open your wallet — because they remind you of the freedom and excitement of your first car.
While both general and personal associations will come to bear on our color-based choices, we can use both theories to further our self-awareness.
Your favorite colors will always be your favorite colors — largely due to the aforementioned personal experiences — but you can learn to recognize when your attraction is to a product color more than the product. More generally, you can use awareness of advertising color schemes to pick up on marketing attempts to program an emotional response.
While it may be impossible to complete escape being influenced by color, becoming more aware of your responses to color stimuli will help you recognize the thought patterns behind your decisions.