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Seeing Red — What a Red Logo Says About a Brand

Esme Mazzeo Esme MazzeoGraphic Designer
Your logo’s color may seem like a small detail, but in business, every little decision matters. Colors are more than just pretty; they’re actually powerful, able to inspire your customers to act and feel certain ways. In fact, there’s a whole field of psychology dedicated to understanding what colors mean.

Ever wonder why the Wendy’s logo is red? Does Target’s logo color have anything to do with why it’s so easy to spend money there? This is certainly not coincidental.

What Hidden Meanings Might Your Red Logo Convey?

When choosing a color for your logo, it’s important to consider all of its meanings and how they might translate to your customers and influence your brand message.

Everyone knows that red is the color of passion. But you also need to pay attention to subtle nuances in meaning. For example, red represents love as well. The distinction is quite important. Red depicts a more masculine energy, so the aggressiveness of passion makes sense. Its feminine counterpart is a lighter shade of red, perhaps pink. Pink is a feminine energy, and traditionally a better color to use to express love.

Here are some other common associations with the color red:
  • Energy/Excitement
  • Urgency/Quickness
  • Power/Confidence
Apart from evoking these emotions, red is also good at grabbing attention, which is perhaps why it sometimes signifies danger. Furthermore, red can increase your blood pressure, make you breathe faster, or even whet your appetite!

Red Through the Eyes of Big Brands

Red is popular in the foodservice industry, the media industry, and in retail stores, especially “superstores” that sell a wide variety of products. There are specific reasons why each industry uses red as a perfect color to represent their company.

Red Makes You Want to Eat!

Considering that red captures attention, can increase one’s hunger, and represents quickness, this color is perfect for the fast food industry. Some of my favorite fast food restaurants have predominantly red logos:

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KFC, Wendy’s, and Arby’s know how to stimulate your hunger. And if you’re hungry, they know that you probably want your food right away. They also understand that you’re likely not looking for a leisurely meal. Instead, you probably want to just eat and run; or drive through, place your order, and scarf down your meal while on the road. So not only does the bright red in these famous restaurants’ logos grab your attention, but they also whet your appetite, and then promise to satisfy it — fast.

Red Encourages You to Shop!

Fast food isn’t the only industry that cleverly capitalizes on the power of red. Companies like Target and Kmart use red because it triggers a sense of speed and impulse, which is a beautiful thing for the retail industry. When entering either of these stores, customers expect to quickly find everything they want — and everything they didn’t know they wanted.

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Red Compels You to Watch!

Media companies also like the color red. The associations with speed and authority make red the perfect color to inspire trust. So, it’s no surprise that a company like CNN has a predominantly red logo.

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Other kinds of media companies use red to establish authority, too. YouTube is the leading video-sharing website. The red icon grabs your attention and makes you want to hit “play.”

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And then there’s Netflix, a leading media-streaming service. Again, the bright red “N” instantly pops out against the pitch-black TV screen. It captures your attention.
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These companies have certainly earned their authoritative reputations in their own right. But their use of red helps reinforce that reputation, and viewers trust that what they’ll watch is either informative, entertaining, or both.

Use Red Carefully

As much good as the color red can do for business, it also has some negative connotations. Carefully consider whether its associations complement your business well. Here are some example mismatches:
  • With the exception of the Red Cross, red doesn’t work well in logos associated with the healthcare industry. It implies danger and is associated with blood and loss of life. If you’re a pediatrician, for example, a red logo probably won’t do much to allay the anxieties of your young patients.
  • “Seeing red” implies anger, and being “in the red” implies debt. Based on this, banks and financial services should use red sparingly.
  • Because red inspires urgency, the beauty industry should also steer clear of the color. For example, nobody wants to feel like their barber or manicurist is rushing on them.
  • Extended-Stay Hotels/B&Bs. Red is associated with speed. People staying at hotels or bed-and-breakfasts are often on vacation. You want them to feel so relaxed at your facility that they literally extend their stay. Yes, change their sheets efficiently. But don’t make them feel rushed out.
  • Educational Services. Think back to your school days. When you failed a test, what color was that “F” written in? Probably red. This is the main reason you should stay away from it if you run a tutoring service. You also want your pupils to feel comfortable, not rushed through their work. Apples can be green or yellow, too!
  • Feminine Clothing Store. Red is more of a masculine color. So, you’re not going to attract the customers you need to if you use red in a feminine clothing store logo. Simple as that.
  • Red can mean very different things in different cultural contexts. For example, in China, red is associated with luck and prosperity whereas in Jamaica it’s associated with drunkenness. So if you set up shop in Jamaica and want to be considered a serious business, you should probably stay away from red.
  • Political Affiliation. Red is often associated with communism. But in the U.S., it’s mostly associated with the Republican Party. So if your business’s target audience is primarily made up of liberals, you may want to steer clear of red, too.
Attracting customers is your goal. So, you must consider your target audience when picking a color for your logo. As soon as you get the right customers to come into your establishment, you’ve won half the battle. Your logo is what’s going to lure them in, so make sure its color works with you to attract the people you want, not repulse them

Should Your Logo Wear Red?

The next question that may naturally come to mind is, “How do I know if I should design a red logo for my business?” To help yourself decide, consider these questions:
  • Does your business command authority? (e.g., a law firm)
  • Does your business feed hungry people quickly? (e.g., a fast food restaurant)
  • Do you “sell” love and passion? (e.g., a dating service or blog)
  • Does your business try to evoke a sense of speed? (e.g., a car dealership)
If you still have uncertainties about your desired course of action, take a moment to jot down the messages and atmosphere you wish your business to communicate. As you conduct your color investigation for your logo, make use of these notes. Do any of the keywords you documented align with the significances of particular colors?

If you want to convey mystery, sophistication, or elegance, black may be the best predominant color for your logo. Loyalty, professionalism or trust? Try blue instead. Are you going for a more playful, happy or vibrant feeling? Orange is your logo’s perfect match. And of course, if you want to convey passion, urgency, or authority, red is probably the color to use.

Meaning is important, but you don’t have to completely ignore your personal preferences either. Ideally, your logo will last for years. Make sure you like it! But whatever you do, always remember to consider your target audience. Ultimately, they’re the ones who will keep you in business, not your beautiful logo.

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