As consumers, we tend to be blissfully unaware of how much colour impacts our decision-making and thought process because it plays to our sub-conscious. When looking down the confectionary aisle of the supermarket, you’re likely to see swathes of purple, but do any of us consciously take that in and analyse why that is? Probably not.

In fact: people make a subconscious judgment about an environment, product or person within 90 seconds of their initial interaction and 62%-90% of that assessment is based on colour alone[1]. Colour can account for up to 85% of the reason people buy one product over another[2] and can increase brand recognition by 80%[3].

For brands, the importance of colour cannot be underestimated. However, there are different aspects of colour for brands to consider…

This includes colour symbolism; if misunderstood, this can have a huge impact. Pepsi Cola lost its dominant market share to Coke in South East Asia when it changed the colour of its vending machines and coolers from deep ‘Regal’ blue to light ‘Ice’ blue, as light blue is associated with death and mourning in the region.

Over time, many categories have adopted certain palettes which we call colour codes. Cleaning products for example predominantly use blue and white to communicate being clean and fresh. This approach has been used by an array of household brands including Cif, Finish and Febreze. The odd splash of yellow and green link to a particular fragrance or flavour. Yellow implies lemon (citrusy, acidic and fresh) and green implies apples, alpine and natural),  all linking back to the idea of cleanliness.  In the beauty industry, we often see sensitive skincare ranges/brands using green as their base colour, implying the inherent link to nature.

Reading Colour

The way we ‘read’ colour is down to our system 1 brain, which learns by association; the more two things are associated with one another, the stronger their pathway to our memory becomes. For example, from a very young age we are surrounded by signs and symbols that associate the colour red with danger, therefore the association becomes entrenched in our minds. By understanding how our minds work with colour, brands can create associations over time to strengthen the memory pathways.

But associations with colour can be more complex than that. Our brains are also able to attribute colours to letters and numbers. Most often known as synaesthesia (cross-sensory associations), it describes when people see letters or numbers as inherently coloured. It works the same way as how we associate shapes to sounds – for example, the famous bouba/kiki study by Wolfgang Köhler in 1929 found that 95% of people assigned the word kiki to a spiky shape and bouba to a soft shape, based on the sounds feeling representative of the shape.

Colour And Naming In Practice

To understand more about colour and naming working together, we partnered with NeuroStrata to conduct a study into the non-conscious effects of colour and words in communicating a brand idea to consumers.

The brand idea was simple: a healthy fruit snacking brand with the proposition ‘the modern fruit movement’. For the test we created simple pack ‘designs’ for coconut crisps in three colours (Green, Pink and Purple) with three different names (from ‘spiky’ to ‘soft’: Fruax, Ogo, Oozu) tested against a set of attributes: Feel Good vs. Not Feel Good, Fruity vs. Not Fruity, Healthy vs. Not Healthy, Natural vs. Artificial, Tasty vs. Not Tasty, Positive vs. Negative Emotional Attraction.

The results highlighted the importance of the name and colour combination in successfully communicating the attributes.

Fruax scored highest for ‘Fruity’, but when coupled with pink or purple, the score dropped.
Purple scored best for ‘Feel Good’ as a colour, but when paired with the names it was overtaken by (Oozu) Green and Pink. Green is deemed the healthiest colour by women, but the score becomes negative when coupled with the Oozu name.

There were also notable difference amongst men and women as Oozu was the highest scoring name, driven by men (fitting with Feel Good and Healthy), but weakest for women. The prediction would likely have been the opposite – that a harder, masculine-sounding name to appeal to men and the softer, rounder name to women. Fruax Green was deemed Not Healthy to men but Healthy to women. Oozu Purple signalled Tasty to men but Not Tasty to women.

Our study has proved it’s important not to jump to conclusions when it comes to choosing names and colour , often the combinations that feel most obvious, in fact aren’t. It also shows that use of sub-conscious led research for quick, iterative development is invaluable.


Colour and sound have a complex and fascinating relationship. As we understand more about the subconscious way the brain reads colour and visuals, we need to ensure that all elements of the design work in harmony to create the strongest multi-sensory connections (creating greater connections, loyalty, and memory with consumers).

[1] US Institute for Color Research
[2] Color Marketing Group
[3] 2007 study by psychology and management researchers at the University of Loyola, Maryland