Showing your true colours

Terry Van Rhyn discusses the importance of colour and what it can add to your brand identity

It was on a rainy January day in 1979, during my first year studying Art & Design, that I found myself at a lecture on the subject of colour. At first, I thought it was one of those nebulous subjects which weren’t to be taken seriously and contemplated heading out to my nearby favourite surf spot instead.

On this occasion, I decided to attend the lecture. Which was just as well as it turned out that colour would become an integral part of how I approach shaping the brand architecture and styling of my clients’ brands.

In the world of advertising, a brand’s colour palette exerts a powerful influence by speaking directly, if subconsciously, to the emotions and perceptions of consumers. Beyond mere aesthetics, the psychology of colour plays a crucial role in shaping behaviour, creating lasting impressions, and establishing a strong and memorable brand identity.

As creative marketers, it’s our job to marry a deep understanding of consumer behaviour with the relevant messaging, colour and visual trigger points to produce the desired effect.

This can be easy to get wrong as there are multiple shades and tones within each colour – these subtle differences can influence emotions, cultural or gender perceptions that will ultimately impact human mood and decision-making.

Once selected, consistency is key when it comes to branding. A standard colour palette across all touchpoints – logo, website, packaging – builds trust and fosters brand recognition. Consumers will instinctively associate colours with specific brands, and a cohesive, enduring visual identity reinforces brand loyalty. This does not mean that you are stuck with limited colour choices as you would typically develop a primary and secondary/complementary colour palette.

There are some other issues to consider. If your reach is beyond the shores of the UK, then be aware that colours convey diverse cultural meanings. For example, while white may symbolize purity in Western cultures, it signifies mourning in some Eastern cultures. We must always be aware of these cultural nuances to avoid unintended associations that may impact their global appeal.

There are also classic stereotypes related to gender and associated colours and savvy brands leverage or challenge these norms. Pink is often associated with femininity, while blue is linked to masculinity. However, breaking free from these stereotypes can help brands make bold statements and stand out in a changing marketplace.

As always, understanding your target audience or tribe is important. Age, gender and cultural background all influence colour preferences and conducting thorough market research ensures that your colour choices resonate with your specific consumer or tribal base. A/B testing can be particularly useful here.

You’ll also need a keen awareness of what your competitors are doing. Analyse their colour choices and create a distinctive colour palette to help your brand establish its own unique identity.

Regularly reassessing your visual theme will ensure that your brand stays fresh and relevant. Often, you can make updates and tweaks to your chosen colour palette without making significant changes to your brand identity.

Fashion changes over time and colour preferences shifts and you may find that the blue tones in your logo may need to either go brighter or be muted depending on where consumer or fashion trends are going.

But it’s also worth remembering that some brands frequently change “looks” far more often than they need to. Beware if you have a new senior officer who thinks everything would look better in red, purple, green or whatever their own particular favourite hue – it’s the brand identity you’re building with your customers that really counts.

The psychology of colour


Although black can represent death and mourning in our culture, it is perceived quite differently in the fashion industry. Many luxury brands use black to signify sophistication, power and elegance.


Blue is a universally liked colour across gender and age demographics. It reflects feelings of trust and wisdom which translates to dependability – great for financial institutions, law firms, life insurance and banks. Although probably a safe option for those business in those industries, it is rather boring, cold and not a very friendly hue. There is hope, however, if you explore the wider blue palette and look at grey/blue or green/blue tones.


Purple is a tough colour to use in branding or advertising and although it may suggest royalty, wisdom and superiority, it also signifies moodiness, excess and decadence. Generally, purple is used to attract a predominantly female audience and depending on the tone it can range from Cadbury and Hallmark hues to those of Yahoo or FedEx.


In today’s world green naturally solicits feelings of nature, relaxation, hope, health and is typically used by conservation, eco-friendly or healthy lifestyle businesses. Fortunately, there is a wide range of green in the colour wheel to explore for brands hoping to stand out.


There is no doubt red is an exciting and powerful colour and is often used in the retail sector for sales flashes or call to action buttons. On the flip side, it’s also an angry, aggressive colour that represents danger. I guess it is all about context. A touch of red on an ad, a book cover or a poster will always grab attention.


This is generally seen as a Marmite colour. On one hand, it has a young, happy, confident and creative vibe, and when paired with grey or black it presents a very sophisticated image. Getting the right tone is crucial – too light and people might feel it’s rather insipid, too bright and it can be seen as rather juvenile.


The yellow smiley face or the rubber ducky usually produce a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling while the yellow police tape around a crime scene might immediately give you sweaty palms! I think we tend to err on the happy side of this colour which can give a sense of positivity, creativity and friendliness.