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The impact a company’s branding colour has on a consumer’s ethical judgement

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In a study called “Impact of Colour in Marketing“, researchers found that 90 per cent of snap judgments are made about products based on colour alone. 

And the report “Exciting Red and Competent Blue” also confirmed that purchasing intent is greatly affected by colours as it influences how consumers view the “personality” of the brand in question.

Additional studies have revealed that our brains prefer recognisable brands, which makes colour incredibly important when creating a brand identity. But who knew that ethics could be clearly defined by colours as well?

Through a series of studies, Aparna Sundar, a professor of marketing in the UO’s Lundquist College of Business, and James Kellaris of UC’s marketing department uncovered evidence that colour shapes opinion about eco-friendliness.

“What we’re finding is that colour biases the way consumers make ethical judgements,” said Sundar. “Of course green is one of those colours that consumers associate with eco-friendliness, but blue is also one such colour.”

In one study, the pair worked to pinpoint colours that were highly associated with environmentalism. Shoppers were presented with a fictitious logo that was coloured using a colour associated with a known brand. Armed with only an unfamiliar logo, the study found that shoppers considered retailers using blue or green in logos to be more eco-friendly than retailers using red.

“Interestingly, blue is ‘greener’ than green in terms of conveying an impression of eco-friendliness, despite the frequent use of the word green to convey that idea,” Kellaris said.

Once researchers established a set of eco-friendly colours, they also identified colours perceived to be environmentally unfriendly, such as red for example. Sundar and Kellaris then developed additional studies to test whether the colours impacted perceptions of the retailer’s environmental friendliness.

Respondents were asked to share whether a fictitious retailer, DAVY Grocery Store, acted ethically in various morally ambiguous scenarios, such as when spraying water on produce. Subjects only saw the logo for DAVY, which was presented in either an eco-friendly colour or an unfriendly colour. The results showed that exposure to a more eco-friendly colour in a retailer’s logo influenced consumer judgments, and ethically ambiguous business practices seemed more ethical.

In addition to observed biases in situations of ambiguous ethical practices, follow-up studies found that consumers tended to be more critical of a retailer with an eco-friendly-coloured logo when faced with a practice that was definitely ethical or definitely unethical.

While individual differences still played a role in this observed effect of colour, Sundar’s research suggested that colour used in a logo has far-reaching consequences on consumers’ perceptions of retailers.

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