Psychology of the Color Red and What it Means for Your Business

We’ve shared earlier a basic understanding of how critical color decisions can be in business. These decisions are difficult because of every individual filters color with different conscious and subconscious associations. Understanding these associations within the audience for whom your work, service, or product is intended is essential to making smart color decisions and bridging the gap between what you are trying to communicate and what is actually perceived.

We’ve explored the color blue and its influence throughout various industries. As we dig deeper into the visual and mental significance of color in business let’s target another primary color – red. Color goes beyond appearance but generates an experience. It offers an instantaneous visual way to associate meaning to a particular company or industry, and red is no exception. In fact, red is an attention-grabbing color. It’s an energetic and vivid influence within the business world. Here are a few things you should know about red.

USE RED CAREFULLY! IT CAN CONTRADICT ITSELF.

Many interesting observations can be made about red’s ability to contradict itself. Across cultures we see red portrayed in a variety of different associations. In China, red is a symbol of good luck. In South Africa, red is symbolic of mourning. If you’re “in the red” on Wall Street, you’re losing money. In Jamaica, if you’re red, you’re drunk. In U.S. politics, Red is the Republican Party. Worldwide, red is the color communism. As we can see in these few examples, even though the color itself does not change, the emotional impact that it creates does. Remember, red’s meaning is often dependent on its cultural, historical, and political context.

Another set of contradictory emotions that red creates is love and danger. “Red” holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day are often associated with warmth, love, and giving. Red is generally a “warm” color. Outside of this holiday context, however, red can be associated with the alarm, hazard, blood, and danger. Ironically, red is symbolic of the nearness of life as well as the potential loss of life. There are more connections and contradictions that can be made, but the point is obvious: know your audience when using red and make sure the message is clear.

RED WILL MAKE YOU HUNGRY

As opposed to blue, which is an appetite suppressant, red is an appetite stimulant, especially with yellow. If you think about the fast food industry, you will quickly realize that dozens of restaurants utilize red: Wendy’s, McDonald's, Burger King, Denny’s, Sonic, KFC, Arby’s… you get the idea. The idea behind this color usage is that it is attention-grabbing and associated with speed and quickness. Furthermore, red makes sense when used in signage because it is easy to see from far away, unlike blue that might get lost against the sky.

When we talk about fast food, not only is red a “quick” color, but it is also perceived as being an agitating color. For many fast food chains, the primary focus isn’t on being a comfortable place, but rather a place where you can come and go quickly after getting your food. Red is efficient, yet dynamic. It’s edgy, yet streamlined.

Whereas McDonald’s is not somewhere where you typically want to stay, it appears as though their website is. Any McDonald’s franchise is plastered with red and yellow. The “Golden Arches” have become an American landmark for some. However, visit their website, and you will quickly notice a minimal amount of these agitating colors, but come to find much black and teal, because they want you to remain on their site.

KNOW WHEN TO STEER CLEAR OF RED

One specific industry that often finds itself “stuck” in one of the contradictions we mentioned above is the medical industry. On the one hand, the medical world is associated with life, giving, support, and care, while on the other hand, it’s linked to injury, blood, risk, and emergency. Some organizations, such as The American Red Cross, manage to overcome this negative barrier, but when talking about the medical industry as a whole, red should be avoided. In our often subconscious opinion, the bad far outweighs the good. Think about it: would you want to visit a dentist with a red logo? Isn’t the dentist with a blue logo scary enough?

SOME THOUGHTS TO CONSIDER

There are many more associations to make with red. The conversation could go on and on about its impact on our minds and attitudes. Why not continue the conversation?

  • Share some of your experience with the color red. How has red made an impact on your behavior?
  • We’ve shared a few examples of how red contradicts itself. What are some other ways you’ve seen red do this?

As you may know, each week we feature a distinct color on our Facebook page. Check out this week’s color of the week and see how it makes you feel. Look for some examples of red! We’ve already discussed red; learn more about how colors speak by reading Why Color is Critical For Your Business and What Does Blue Do For You? Stay tuned as we continue to explore the complex nature of a specific color each month and its impacts on our attitudes within today’s culture and economy.

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