The psychology behind the commercial success of red
By Rachel Konkler
The color red is notorious for its associations with love, passion and romance. Culture has taught us to think it’s sexy, and it demands attention. Shades of red have taken over the retail industry, coloring logos, advertisements and packaging. The bright, fiery hue is more than just commanding: It makes a statement both visually and psychologically. Companies have discovered it and used it to draw the consumer to their product instead of others.
The fashion industry is a juggernaut that uses the color red as one of its most powerful statements. Fashion designer Valentino Garavan, best known as simply Valentino, once said, “red has guts.” Red dresses, red heels and red lipstick scream sex appeal. Even the ancient Egyptians wore rouge to attract men.
But why are people attracted to red? Studies have shown that the inclination to choose mates in red is grounded in both culture and evolution. Evolution teaches us that attraction to red is innate; for instance, female baboons display red on their bottoms when they are ready to mate. Women interviewed for a special on The Today Show about the color said that although red is proven to make people more interested, they tend not to wear it out because they will look like they are “trying too hard.” Even so, red excites people, and fashion experts agree it flatters many skin tones and hair colors.
You may wonder why, scientifically, the color red causes excitement. According to Brandmade, a website devoted to design, “Red is physically interpreted by the human eyeball behind the cornea, which means actually inside your head. This gives red an active feeling, as it seems to be constantly coming toward you. Red is used in commercial businesses because it creates excitement.”
Red is seen everywhere from logos to labels: Staples, Sports Authority, Kmart and Target all display red in their iconic logos, and red packaging can be seen in stores on anything from cans of Campbell’s soup to bags of Skittles.
The color red is dynamic, and it also represents change. In nature, red is seen in the flow of lava from a volcanic eruption or the changing of leaves in autumn.
Companies use this idea to their advantage to show that their product is better and ahead of its competitors. According to the employee training manual for Sears, the company believes the color red “signifies a premium product that’s made of a higher quality and workmanship.” Sears’ embrace of red can be found in many of its logos, including brands like Craftsman, a leading tool brand carried in the store that dons a red logo.
The commercialization of red is bigger in the holiday season than any other time of year. Influential companies have used the signature colors of Christmas—red and green—to their advantage in advertising to promote holiday shopping.
Obviously, the holiday icon Santa Claus is always seen sporting his classic red suit. But contrary to popular belief, Santa did not always look this way. Commercial powerhouse company Coca-Cola actually helped to invent the modern Santa we see today. Coca-Cola created the modern, American image of Santa, one who is chubby, jolly and adorned in red, in order to promote the beverage in wintertime by dressing him in Coke’s signature color. In 1931, Coca-Cola first depicted Santa in the red and white suit that the character is today famous for, drinking a bottle of Coke while delivering presents and riding his sleigh.
According to the Coca-Cola website, “Before the 1931 introduction of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even [once] appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.” The company says that Santa’s red suit has a “powerful, endearing quality.”
Like many famous corporations and iconic logos that incorporate red, Santa Claus captures attention and creates a lasting impression that keeps consumers coming back for more.
Rachel Konkler is a freshman exploratory student who finally understands why kids are obsessed with Clifford, the Big Red Dog. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.