Color Theory: Red as a Branding Color
Is red the right choice for your branding and marketing?
If you are considering red as a primary color for your brand, it’s a good idea to understand the color theory of red. What are the psychology and cultural references that are associated with red and the nuances between different shades of red?
Color psychology: Red is connected to the human body and emotions
Instead of thinking about red purely in terms of logos, start by considering its connection to the human experience. Red is tied to many basic human activities and emotions.
Red is associated very viscerally with blood, meat, lips, the tongue, and the heart. These all have strong and primal emotions tied to them including life, death, eating, aggression, love, and sex. The sight of blood has an immediate emotional response for many. The natural red in our body gets exaggerated in the use of red lipstick and nail polish and feels sexy. As our blood boils and our face flushes red is associated with both anger and embarrassment. Red is used on Valentine’s Day and can be associated with romantic love.
Color psychology: Red means stop
Red alerts us to stop and pay attention when used on stop signs, red traffic lights, and fire trucks.
Color psychology: Red suggests heat
Red suggests heat, whether it’s a reference to red-hot embers or a spicy chili pepper. Red is used on thermometers to indicate warm temperatures and to show hot zones on weather.
Red in logos and branding is connected to food
Many restaurants—especially Italian restaurants and pizza places—use red in their logo, signs, packaging, and decor. This is probably because of the reference to tomatoes, red sauce and maybe the Italian flag.
There are many fast-food brands, including McDonald’s, KFC, Five Guys, and Dairy Queen, that use red. Although it’s not well validated with research, there is a myth that red makes people hungry. Even if there is not much scientific proof that red increases our appetite, over time a connection has grown between food and the color red.
Red in branding represents health
Building off the connection of blood itself, many healthcare-related companies use red as their primary brand color. The Red Cross has been around since the Civil War and is associated with helping wounded soldiers and stepping in with disaster relief. More recently red has been the primary brand color for both Walgreens and CVS, two of the most well-known drugstores in the U.S. While Band-Aid and Johnson & Johnson, who both sell healthcare products, also use red.
Red in branding and marketing is a bold and active color
Many strong, corporate brands use red in their logo. It feels bold and energetic. These brands aren’t making specific references to blood, health or food, but they recognize that the color conveys powerful and energetic emotions.
Color theory: Understanding shades of red for your branding
Not all red looks the same, and these variations are important. Some red is lighter and edges toward pink. Some are darker, like maroon or burgundy. Red can also be warm or cool.
Many people mix up cool and warm red. They say they are looking for a ‘warm red’ when in fact they want a ‘cool red’. Think back to your school art class and a color wheel to understand the difference between cool and warm. The cool shades are moving toward purple and the warm shades of red are moving toward orange. For some reason, many people associate the cooler side with warmer feelings and mix up the terminology. The deep red used in Christmas decorations and the color of red wine are both cool reds. The orange hue in tomatoes is a warm red.
Why does using the right words matter? Good communication with a designer is critical if you’ve hired someone to help with your branding. If you request a warm red, when you really want a cool red, it could lead to a misunderstanding.
Is red right for your brand?
Finding the right color for your brand depends on what associations you want to come to mind when people see your brand. Overall, red brands come across as energetic and emotional. Red should be avoided for services or products that are trying to project a calming or peaceful quality.
Considering other colors? Read more about the color theory of green.
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