GLOBAL: The human mind looks for shortcuts. One of the quickest and most robust routes is colour. Through it we decode meaning, take cultural cues, and, crucially, we use it to understand brands, according to an Admap article.

Writing in the July/August edition of Admap, Natalie Candy and Vicky Bullen, planning partner and CEO, respectively, of Coley Porter Bell, deconstruct the impact of colour on human decision-making.

“People make a subconscious judgement about an environment, product or person within ninety seconds of their initial interaction,” they write, “62–90% of that assessment is based on colour alone”.

The associations that we hold to colours are no accident, they say. “In sensitive skincare, green rules,” as the colour is inherently linked to nature. “Blue is … strongly associated with trust.” Meanwhile, red and yellow dominate fast food, with sources suggesting that red triggers the appetite, while yellow nudges us to think of flavour.

A knowledge of colour associations does not, however, make branding easier. Though a colour can quickly communicate the category, “by following the codes, a brand risks getting lost in a sea of sameness.”

Yet there are examples of brands that have successfully broken category codes. McDonald’s adoption of dark green, “Driven by the cultural shift in food and health and wanting to up its credentials in quality, tasty food,” strengthened its “food story.”

Elsewhere, Apple’s shift from black to white and ‘moon grey’ “single-handedly redefined premium colour codes” as the brand began to focus on simplicity.

But brands must be alive to the role of colour in culture. Notably, trends change. Health products, the authors write, have evolved from negative to positive: “one outcome of this is a transition in the health palette, from white, blue and green, to vibrant, flavourful brights.”

Finally, they emphasise three lessons for sub-conscious colour. First, the brand name and the colour must “behave together”. At the same time, the audience profile must be nuanced; for instance, there are differences between how men and women perceive colour, with women typically more sensitive to colour than men.

However, the entire experience is fundamental, as all elements of the design, “and the context in which it sits, have a huge impact on the subconscious perception of colour and what it means to the consumer.”

Data sourced from WARC