Challenger brands, persuasive forces and the colour orange

This week, I would like to explore the psychology behind the colour cue orange, its use in the retail environment and why it is a good colour to challenge the status quo.

And whether it makes people predominantly think of Garfield or something else?

From last fortnight’s blog there were a number of excellent comments, questions, discussions and particularly one recurring theme. When analysing the impact of a certain colour for branding and marketing it is essential to contextualise within the cultural as well as category framework and also to understand the target market. If deployed correctly, colour is a “seriously subliminally persuasive force”, as James, a Canadian neuromarketing colleague, quantifies:

  • Colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%
  • Colour improves readership as much as 40%
  • Colour accelerates learning from 55-78%
  • Colour increases comprehension by 73%

But… Only if it is the right colour!

Globally safe and unsafe branding colours

Another question that often comes up is to understand which colours are ‘safe’ to use for global brands, where contexts and perceptions of consumers vary.

If we were to generalise and try to understand which colours are least ‘safe’ on a global scale, according to Hallock’s international study across 22 countries and all age groups, orange is, next to brown, grey and yellow, one of the globally ‘least favorite’ colours.


Source: Hallock, international colour associations

Generational differences

It is important to note, though, that particularly with the colour orange there are significant generational differences. Where orange really is the leader of the globally least favourite colour list – with 30% disliking this colour most, even before brown – this looks different when drilling into the generational detail. Less than 10% of under-18s nominate orange as their least favourite and at the same time 10% in this age group actually nominate orange as their favourite colour.

After that, the dislike climbs up again to around 20% (19-24) and 30% (25-35) and peaks at 40% for the 36-50 as well as 70+ years old.

Whereas these differences are important to account for, it really depends on which subconscious effect you are trying to achieve. Let’s explore the psychology and application of the colour orange in more detail.

Origins and cultural associations

Orange in its various forms is associated with aroma, pleasure and the un-objective. It is an activating colour that evokes feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, creativity, celebration, fun, youth, energy, conviviality and affordability. On a global average, it is the colour which is most strongly associated with fun (28%) as well as with cheap/inexpensive (26%).



Some interesting cultural specifics are:

  • Psychology: Energizes, stimulates appetite
  • Alternative treatments/chromotherapy in ancient cultures (Chinese/Egyptians): Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
  • Ireland: Religious (Protestants)
  • Netherlands: House of Orange, royalty (and a very popular colour in this cultural exception)
  • Western: Halloween (with black), creativity, autumn
  • India (Hindu): Sacred, saffron
  • Japan: Courage, love
  • Ukraine: Strength
  • Astrology: Sagittarius
  • Feng Shui: Yang, earth, strengthens, conversation, purpose, organisation

Orange in the limbic system of our brain

Overall and independently from cultural specifications, the colour orange activates the stimulance dimension in the limbic system in the brain which actively seeks fun, variety and creativity and avoids routine and boredom.

Consumers with a high emphasis on the stimulance dimension (Hedonists and partially Adventurers) are precisely the target market for Jetstar, Bankwest, Boss Orange (by Hugo Boss) and the local tyre retailer Tyreright and are great examples of brands that successfully connect with their target audience by activating the right emotionality and subconscious associations via colour.


In the case of orange this is the emotionality of convivial, youthful, inexpensive (or ‘less expensive’ in the Boss example) and slightly unconventional.


However, at the premium end of the market and particularly when combined with black or other premium cues such as this Lamborghini example, which we tested in one of our recent studies, orange sends the subconscious signal that, yes, this is a status car, but not a conformist, usual one. Rather it belongs to a Hedonist or Adventurer who command the extra fun, individualism and extravagance from their latest toy.


Orange and the retail and consumer environment

As orange calls to mind feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and warmth it is often used to draw attention in advertising and branding.

In recent years, orange has become increasingly popular again not only in fashion but also in retail environments that are all about attention, action and excitement.


One of our clients, the Australian tyre retailer Tyreright, managed to successfully draw the attention of the passer-by, younger, predominantly female audience and to underpin its message of a hassle-free, quick and easy tyre-fitting experience at competitive prices.

At the same time, the colour coding supported their strategic positioning, attacking the establishment (mostly and very typically blue) as a younger and more innovative challenger brand in the category – where the skies looked just blue previously.

If you are considering branding, the use of colours and other subconscious cues from an advertising, packaging or retail environment perspective, the clear starting point is to contextualise, to understand which emotions you would like to activate and in turn which consumers you are setting out to connect with.

I am open to this discussion if you’d like to link in with me directly and look forward to this week’s comments and questions!

Katharina Kuehn is director of RDG Insights, which provides retailers and brands with the missing link between understanding the real drivers of consumer behaviours and informing the strategic branding and operational implications at the point of sale.





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