By their very nature, signs, banners and other such marketing aids are intended to communicate messages to people on the street quickly, simply and effectively. Used effectively, they can be a great way to send messages to potential customers with very little expense and effort. Of course, effective use comes with understanding how symbols and visual messages are sent. At least partially, this involves understanding the messages particular color schemes send. After all, the different colors you choose to present in a sign or flag will have a great impact on the sort of message they will send to people looking at them.
The fact that different colors have different meanings associated with them is a well-known cultural fact. Pretty much every culture have elaborate traditions relating to color and what those colors mean, such as the color red being thought to be lucky amongst Chinese-influenced nations, or the color purple holding royal and imperial connotations to nations influenced by the Roman Empire. It is because of those traditions and systems that we have things such as national flags, family heraldry, and cultural costume and uniforms. Thus, if you want to get good with advertising through signs and banners, you need to learn what different colors are usually taken to mean by people on the street.
A very eye-catching color, red is filled with energy, zest, and passion. People have reported in the past feeling exhilarated or energized when surrounded by red, and certainly it gives any sign the right amount of zing. Of course, such an energized color should be used with moderation – use it to highlight a sign rather than to saturate with it. Messages that the color red sends tend to be related to movement, intense emotion and life. It also has connotations with royalty, martial prowess, as well as danger (all stop signs are red, for example). Among Asian cultures, red is a lucky color. Pink, in contrast, has a more calming effect and is much softer as a color. Its most common connotation is love, whether romantic or platonic, and affection.
Orange is red and then some. It again represents intense energy, zest, and activity. It is often used to represent excitement, optimism and fun. Once again, it can be overwhelming if used too heavily.
In contrast to red or orange, green is a very calm and soothing color. In most cases, you can use green in large amounts and not overwhelm a picture, making it an excellent background color for your signs. Commonly, green (along with brown) is used to represent nature, harmony, balance, growth, plants and farming. It can also be used to represent financial success – dollars are green after all – envy and, thanks to the Irish connection, good luck. Sickness is another common association as well, and by extension decay and corruption.
Like green, blue is another calming color. In fact, blue is probably one of the most popular colors around. Ask anyone what their favorite is, and they’ll probably mention this. Blue is often associated with productivity and focus – studies have shown that weight lifters often achieve greater weights when working out in a blue room. However too much blue, or the wrong shades of it, can also give a sensation of coldness and distance. Traditionally, blue is associated with water, although it can also be linked with the sky. It is also used to represent trust and loyalty (“true blue”), wisdom, dependability, and often represents sadness.
Another eye-catching color, yellow is often used in signs as a symbol of happiness, optimism, and cheeriness, most likely due to its association with the sun. People always feel happier when the sun is shining, after all. Because it is spottable even from a distance, yellow has often been used for objects that need to be immediately recognizable, such as warning signs, taxi cabs, and school buses. While light shades may represent happiness, or even a warning, darker shades are usually associated with sickness, age, and being antiquated. An exception is gold, which is, of course, associated with wealth, prestige, grandeur and royalty. Yellow has also been associated with cowardice and betrayal. Meanwhile, in China, yellow is a color associated with the Emperor, and sometimes with dragons. As such, East Asian cultures regard it as an auspicious color.
Once again rather soothing, purple is a color with many positive associations. Principally, it is a color associated with royalty and majesty, a connotation that goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. Being born “in the purple” was a sign of Imperial legitimacy with Eastern Roman Empires. Due to its relative rarity as a color until recent history, purple also has connotations of mysticism, rarity, magic and the supernatural. However, it can also represent malice, anger and storms.
While too much can seem cold and clinical, used in the right amounts white can represent any number of good things, such purity, cleanliness, innocence, and virginity. It is often used when trying to give an impression of freshness and incorruptibility. Not coincidentally, it also marks safety. Monsters and ghosts are rarely ever seen in bright, well-lit white rooms. However, use caution – Asian cultures regard white as a color associated most with death and grieving.
A very good contrasting color, black has a somewhat morbid association among Western cultures. Overuse can be overwhelming. Most typically, it is associated with the night, hidden things, and dark situations. In film symbolism, wearing black marks a character as a villain. It is also the color most associated with death and mourning. However, it can also represent class, intelligence and sophistication, as well as authority in many respects. Judges robes in Commonwealth cultures are black, and black suits are regarded as a mark of the upper classes.