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The Psychology of Colors in Brand Experience

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Dominici Fanelli

Lighting Designer

Alford Media

Walker Keen

Manager, Event Services

Freeman AV

Be conscious of audiences’ subconscious reactions to your event colors

Visuals in brand experience can’t be overstated. Don’t believe everything you see, but know that a lot of mental currency is vested in what audiences see when interacting with your event. To put this in perspective, scientific research shows that vision, when our eyes are open, accounts for two-thirds of the electrical activity of the brain; and that more of our neurons are dedicated to vision than the other four senses combined. We are wired primarily for vision and subconsciously programmed to respond in specific ways to the different colors we face. 

It then makes sense that — beyond tasteful and informative visuals — marketers should possess a strong understanding of the psychology of what colors to implement at events, and how to weave them into lighting and design solutions. 

So take a few blinks, save some energy, and let’s go find out!

Colors and goals

Hollywood cinematographer Eduard Grau explains that color should never be an afterthought with any visual project, but weighed carefully during every step of the process. A color palette should be addressed completely in the planning stages of any show, session, or booth design — and certainly communicated with your designer or audio visual partner. What emotions or responses are you looking for in your audiences? How can color change depending on a pivotal moment in a presentation by a speaker or a shift in the theme of a conference? What colors should wash your images from your general session screens or LED walls to ensure passing attendees know what feelings are behind your brand? 

Also, your color palette should align with or at least complement the specific branding requirements or expectations from your company — but other colors for can be blended in with some planning with your team. 

Now, let’s get you in the mood for some colors, or vice versa actually.

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Colors and moods

Why we react to certain colors certain ways is a mixture of environment and genetics. We’ll leave the details for Bill Nye the Science Guy and get to the approachable data. According to a former designer for Marvel, here is what the main colors generally convey in the West: 

  • Blue: Security/integrity or tranquility/peace
  • Green:  Freshness/ environmental
  • Yellow: Energy/cheerfulness or caution
  • Pink: Romance, beauty, love, or sensitivity
  • Red: Energy/passion or danger/war 

It doesn’t end there. Using tints (colors mixed with white) regardless of the color conveys less energy and more peaceful feelings — something you might see in the branding of a health spa or beauty salon. On the other hand, using shades (colors mixed with black) presents more mysterious or forbidden feelings regardless of color — perhaps something you’d find in the marketing of a cologne or energy drink. Using gradients of both tints and shades can soften or increase their respective psychological force. 

An important caveat — and certainly important as more brands become global in the digital revolution — is that culture may change the context of the meaning of a color. For example, orange may signify autumn for American and Europeans, but in the Middle East it’s a color of mourning. Pink is widely seen as feminine in the West, but in Japan both genders embrace this hue while the Zulu in South Africa see it as a symbol of poverty. If you want more cultural context for colors, you can find a chart here, but if you’re producing an event on foreign soil it’s best to check with the local authorities or universities as well. 

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Colors and reactions

Back in western culture, you should also have a little (but scientific) marketing hack for strategically using certain colors — as we explained in our article Get Stronger Audience Engagement Through the Connection of Color

“Red boosts our attention to detail and performance on tasks such as memory retrieval, while blue enhances our ability to think creatively and encourages our ability to think outside the box.” 

Why is that? According to the research, people associate blue with water and oceans: powerful symbols of change and freedom. Red, going back to color and moods, is associated with danger and thus our fight/flight instincts are alerted — causing us to be more alert. 

Keep these two colors in mind when thinking of what reactions you’re looking for from your attendees at your next event… or maybe switch them out in your meeting rooms the next time you’re brainstorming with your team. 

Colors for lighting

Choosing the right color palette to stimulate your audience is by no means a conclusion to your design. The positioning of lights and the lighting style should combine with your color palette to create subconscious expectations among guests before they hear a single word spoken on stage or participate in an interactive session. 

This layering of colors at events, in lighting or around a brand logo/theme, is not that difficult and pretty standard. Take movies, for example, where we often see how lighting can create the perfect mood without affecting the actual color scheme of the scenes. Ever notice why many horror films like The Ring or Saw are tinted in blue (the color of security, but offering a false sense of security for audiences before something happens)? Notice how such movies as The Matrix or Fight Club are tinted in green (the color of freshness, but in the context of a new reality that goes beyond what audiences expect)? In the hit HBO series, Westworld, crimson is present in almost every scene to instill a foreboding sense of danger in viewers. 

Why did I use these examples? Both movies and events are centered on storytelling. Both should let colors do the telling since the human brain is most attentive to them and other visuals.

Colors for contrasts

Another scientific hack to consider in your event is to leverage contrast if you want to balance out or convey several moods at once. For the most part, dark colors are strong complements to bright colors. That is why most books are designed using black text on white backgrounds. Each color has a contrast value (white is the lightest and black is the darkest), and these can be viewed in your average color wheel. Going back to the example of movies, you’ll notice that orange and blue tend to wash many scenes and even movie posters, as they are in direct contrast and thus catch more attention (the protagonist usually appears in an orange tint, like Shia Labeouf in promotions for Transformers). 

In the end, great lighting designers and audio visual producers can blend and shape a color palette to evoke the mood desired for an event while staying within necessary color guidelines of a brand. What you should remember is that color design is both a science and an art. You can find out how to use color on your own or with the right brand experience partner — but first know what emotions or reactions you’re trying to instill on your audience. That’s just good marketing research, and it’s not necessary to plug into The Matrix for this data.

Looking to make colors work for you at your next event? Check out our graphic design solutions that create personal experiences for audiences

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