The importance of colour selection
Why using colour psychology for your packaging is essential
As someone involved with the all-important appearance of your packaging – as a graphic designer, product manager or buyer – you are likely aware of the crucial role that packaging colour psychology can play in your success.
Packaging colour psychology uses different hues to influence your target consumers’ behaviour. The use of different colours can invoke specific emotions. For example, red communicates excitement, passion, and youthful zeal, whereas blue signifies dependability, calm and trust.
The use of colour can position your brand, reach new consumers, and ultimately drive sales.
This guide provides details of specific colour associations and how you can leverage them to improve the performance of your packaging (and broader branding/product marketing). It covers:
- Points to consider when choosing colours.
- The varying emotions different colours evoke.
- Popular and well-known brands using specific colours.
- Industries where the use of particular colours is widespread.
Please continue reading for further details, or use the table of contents to head straight to your area of interest.
Quick reference / contents
What does your packaging say to your customers?
Packaging is crucial in winning customers (in retail environments) or impressing them and fostering brand loyalty (typically through eCommerce packaging).
Many businesses spend vast amounts of time (and money) designing and refining their packaging to delight their customers. Other companies, in contrast, barely focus on their packaging at all (even using plain, unbranded packs).
However, there is a factor that both of these groups can commonly overlook – the role that colour plays in consumer psychology.
Despite being studied by psychologists for decades, many brands do not realise the benefits of carefully selecting colours for their packaging (and are unaware of the “colour wheel” for doing so).
Colour can evoke emotions and feelings. Certain hues can attract specific segments or consumers within a market. It can capture attention. It can even help nudge people into particular buying behaviours. Packaging colour psychology influences all of this and more.
But what does each of the colours mean? And how do you choose suitable colours for your brand, market or product?
Colours and their meanings
Packaging colour psychology
In short, the varying colours, when used on packaging, are associated with the following emotions, messaging and brand values:
- Red: Excitement, bold, youthful, passion, zeal, warmth, strength, power, action, enthusiasm, love, desire.
- Orange: Friendly, cheerful, confident, fun, adventurous, warmth, cost-effectiveness, creativity.
- Yellow: Cheerful, clarity, warmth, optimism, fun, energy, happiness, confidence.
- Green: Soothing, freshness, growth, peaceful, healthy, eco-friendly, harmony, security, wealth.
- Blue: Calming, trustworthy, efficiency, serenity, logic, intelligence, dependability, strength, honesty.
- Purple: Indulgence, luxury, opulence, spirituality, nobility, wisdom, exclusivity.
- Turquoise: Calmness, purity, clarity.
- Pink: Femininity, calming, beauty, youthful, playful, love.
- Brown: Earthy, comforting, security, natural.
- Black: Elegance, premium, sophistication, authority, strength, mystery.
- White: Simplicity, elegance, purity, innocence, goodness, humility, cleanliness, new beginnings, premium.
- Grey: Calm, neutral, balanced.
Excitement, strength, passion
Red is perhaps one of the most versatile colours for the messaging it can convey. When used on packaging, brighter reds communicate lively and energetic brands/products, although some may consider this shade to denote lower value products.
Alternatively, darker reds convey a more professional and premium offering.
Popular with lifestyle and entertainment brands, reds are also widely used in food packaging applications, as many believe it helps trigger appetite.
Regardless of the colour psychology of red packaging, this colour almost guarantees an attention-grabbing appearance, helping products stand out in crowded retail environments.
Communicates: Excitement, bold, youthful, passion, zeal, warmth, strength, power, action, enthusiasm, love, desire
Popular Brands: Coca Cola, KFC, Nescafe, Vodafone, Netflix, Disney, Lego, Virgin
Industries: Food and beverage, retail, lifestyle, entertainment
Friendly, cheerful, cost effective
Many people claim that orange is a problematic colour to work with because it can convey quite different emotions. Orange can sometimes reflect lower cost or even budget items.
However, careful use of this colour can evoke feelings of friendliness, fun, adventure, and warmth. Orange is also suitable for use alongside contrasting or complementary colours, allowing for a well-balanced message.
Similarly to reds, orange packaging can allow products to become more noticeable when stocked in retail stores.
Communicates: Friendly, cheerful, confidence, fun, adventurous, warmth, cost-effectiveness, creativity
Popular Brands: Fanta, Nickelodeon, Firefox, Quorn, B&Q
Industries: Food, beverage, DIY
Energy, happiness, confidence
Whilst purely yellow packaging and brands usually target children and adolescents, yellow is often used in conjunction with another colour to create a different message.
For example, Subway combines yellow with green to target young consumers (yellow) whilst also communicating the freshness of ingredients (green).
Packaging colour psychology also sees yellow reflecting originality, innovation, fun and happiness. Its use is standard on products designed to be uplifting or reflect an energetic, confident brand.
Communicates: Cheerful, clarity, warmth, optimism, fun, energy, happiness, confidence
Popular Brands: McDonald’s, Shell, DHL, Ferrari, Subway, National Geographic, JCB
Industries: Delivery / fulfilment, construction, plant equipment, fast food
Freshness, natural, wealth
Green is one of the more important colours when used on packaging, yet also one that can convey a broader range of feelings and emotions.
Green is often used to convey eco-friendliness, purity, and organic products. It is also widely used with kraft material and natural colours to promote the environmental benefits of corrugated packaging.
However, brighter shades of green are energising, fresh and healthy. Darker blue-greens are calming and relaxing, while earthy greens are popular for natural products and brands.
Many companies are guilty of using this shade for “green-washing” – i.e. making their products or brand appear more environmentally friendly than it is.
Communicates: Soothing, freshness, growth, peaceful, healthy, eco-friendly, harmony, security, wealth
Popular Brands: Subway, Starbucks, BP, Land Rover, Waitrose, Lloyds Bank
Industries: Banking, medical, health and wellbeing, foods
Calming, trustworthy, logic
Blue is often viewed as a “safe” colour to use for your packaging – being the most universally liked by both male and female consumers. It also conveys dependability, strength, harmony and intelligence, which is why its use is widespread amongst technology brands. The subliminal message is blue denotes a product or brand you can trust.
Besides this, darker blues typically appeal to older consumers, with brighter and more vibrant blues attracting a younger demographic.
Despite this, using blue for your packaging can be a risk. As using blue is expected due to its popularity, packs can get lost amongst a crowd of similar-looking products.
Communicates: Calming, trustworthy, efficiency, serenity, logic, intelligence, dependability, strength, honesty
Popular Brands: HP, Dell, Facebook, Oral B, Ford, Pfizer, Pepsi, Gillette, Samsung
Industries: Electronics, software, pharmaceuticals, and medicines
Indulgence, luxury, spirituality
Appealing to all ages and consumers (particularly female and youth markets), purple portrays a sense of opulence and goods of the highest quality – something that may be a treat rather than an everyday product (and potentially with higher price points to match).
Purple is also increasingly used for spiritual and wellbeing brands/products.
Ultimately, purple packaging can help position your brand/product as a premium option.
Communicates: Indulgence, luxury, opulence, spirituality, nobility, wisdom, exclusivity
Popular Brands: Cadburys, Hallmark, Premier Inn, Aussie, Yahoo
Industries: Food and drink, luxury products
Calmness, purity, clarity
Turquoise is a calming colour that also conveys clarity and purity.
Because of this, turquoise is a popular colour for use in the packaging of health products. It is also widely used for cleaning products, as it communicates a sense of purity without harshness.
Another benefit for many businesses is that its use is not particularly widespread, meaning it can help packaging grab consumer attention and provide a point of difference.
Communicates: Calmness, purity, clarity
Popular Brands: Tiffanys
Industries: Health, cleaning products
Femininity, beauty, youth
Softer shades of pink are – perhaps unsurprisingly – widely used in products targeting female consumers. However, whilst softer pinks are undoubtedly perceived as feminine, bolder and darker shades also convey strength and sophistication.
Vivid and bright pinks are also frequently used for targeting teens and younger consumers (and can also suggest less expensive or trendy products), with light and greyed out shades appealing more to older consumers.
As with turquoise, using pink outside of healthcare and feminine products is rarer. Therefore, using pink can be an advantage for your packaging, providing it does not alienate your target consumer (an excellent example of using it for brand differentiation is T Mobile).
Communicates: Femininity, calming, beauty, youthful, playful, love
Popular Brands: Barbie, Victoria’s Secret, T Mobile
Industries: Health care, cosmetics, fashion
Earthy, comforting, security
Brown packaging can convey a natural, environmentally friendly feeling among consumers (similarly to greens). The brown colour of kraft cardboard is often used with the contrast of a single bold colour to highlight that a product is sustainable whilst not compromising performance or quality.
Communicates: Earthy, comforting, security, natural
Popular Brands: M&Ms
Sophistication, authority, strength
Black is a widely popular choice for use on packaging, as it conveys a fairly neutral message alongside suggestions of authority and elegance. Its use for premium items is widespread too.
It is also widely used with white elements and pairs perfectly with almost any other colour. “Black edition” products are also seen as a luxury or exclusive, making this colour packaging widely used for limited editions and special runs of existing products.
Communicates: Elegance, premium, sophistication, authority, strength, mystery
Popular Brands: Nike, Adidas, Audi
Industries: Consumer goods, automotive, sportswear
Simplicity, elegance, purity
Much like black, most consumers regard white as a premium option.
The use of white for premium packaging is particularly true of corrugated packaging, where it is the primary alternative to brown kraft material.
White packaging – suggesting innocence, purity and new beginnings – is also suitable for health care, cosmetics and luxury goods.
Communicates: Simplicity, elegance, purity, innocence, goodness, humility, cleanliness, new beginnings, premium
Popular Brands: Apple, Tesla, Calvin Klein
Industries: Luxury goods, high-end consumer electronics, medical products, cosmetics
Grey / Silver
Calm, neutral, balanced
Grey packaging has grown in popularity over the last few years, although many fear this is somewhat of a trend and may not be sustainable over the long term.
However, grey packaging and branding can communicate calming, neutral and balanced messaging, making it suitable for practically any product outside a handful of specific sectors. However, its use may be more suited to higher-end products, with the shade not providing enough visual appeal for products where brighter colours are predominant.
Communicates: Calm, neutral, balanced
Popular Brands: Dyson
Colour psychology for packaging
Whilst many businesses do not even consider how the colours they use can affect sales and how their brand is perceived, doing so can prove a significant competitive advantage.
It is, of course, critical to consider your target consumers, the use of the pack, what your competitors are doing, and consistency with your existing branding.
But equally, if a carefully chosen colour can help nudge potential customers towards your products, it is essential that you get your packaging colours right.
For help with packaging colour psychology, please do not hesitate to get in touch and speak with a member of the GWP team.