The power of colour

by The Listener / 09 March, 2013
Without thinking, can you name the colour of the McDonald’s M? Facebook? Coca-Cola? If you said yellow, blue and red, you have been colour co-ordinated.
Canterbury supporters unite in their team's colours
Canterbury supporters unite in their team's colours, photo Wayne Drought/NZPA


The Auckland Blues are on a winning streak, nailing back to back wins. Perhaps it’s early luck, a fired-up team, or the clever coaching of the two Sirs John Kirwan and Graham Henry. Because according to colour theory, blue isn’t the winning colour; red is. That’s Crusader country. It’s Manchester United. It’s Tiger Woods on the last day of a tournament.

In a famous study, Olympic combat sports competitors were randomly assigned a red or blue kit. The result, which could not be put down to mere chance, was that more than half the bouts were won by the person in red. When men were asked by New York’s University of Rochester psychology department to compare women in red shirts with those with green or blue shirts, red came out well ahead – men were even prepared to spend more money on the date.

“Red tends to denote passion, which can be love, anger or warning,” says Denise Conroy, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Auckland. “Think of the red cross, red crescent, red in stop lights and red roses.”

The Listener's psychology columnist, Marc Wilson, has even wondered whether New Zealand's most famous team might do better as the All Reds.

Colour is a powerful hidden persuader, altering our moods, attracting us to certain brands, aiding our concentration or creativity. You can change the taste of your food simply by changing the colour of your dinner plate or breakfast mug.

A 2009 New Scientist article concluded that a range of research was now making it "clear that  colours can have an important, unappreciated effect on the way your mind works".

Up to 90% of a customer’s reaction to a new product – and the reason they end up buying it – is based on colour. Colour is said to increase brand recognition by up to 80%. Think of Warehouse red, Pak’nSave yellow, BP green. “We are hard-wired to notice bright colours,” says Conroy.

Without thinking, can you name the colour of the McDonald’s M? Facebook? Coca-Cola? If you said yellow, blue and red, you have been colour co-ordinated.

Find out more about the psychology of colour in Yvonne van Dongen and Mark Broatch's feature article Psychology of colour Subscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content

Related content:
The effects of colour on sports outcomes, by Marc Wilson Subscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content
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