Use of Color in Pharmaceutical Branding

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Color, with many other big and small design decisions, can attract and influence potential customers every time they see your logo, view your website, or scroll through social media. Research suggests that color is important in brand recognition and buying decisions.

Based on the power of color in marketing, companies in the life sciences and other R&D-driven industries use color strategically to attract customers, communicate brand personality and values, build brand loyalty, and stand out in a competitive market. This blog will examine the use of color for branding in the pharmaceutical industry and offer suggestions to help you choose the best colors for branding and marketing your science-focused business.

History of Color Theory

The first person to give traits to colors may have been Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who published Theory of Colours in 1810. He organized colors into a wheel and assigned the following attributes to them:

  • Red | Beautiful
  • Orange | Noble
  • Yellow | Good
  • Green | Useful
  • Blue | Common
  • Purple | Unnecessary

As the study of color psychology matured, colors gained more nuanced associations and traits. Researchers have also recognized that culture, context, and personal preferences and experiences play a role in how we respond to color. However, there is widespread agreement with Goethe that colors do have traits and evoke emotions. When applying color in marketing, try to choose colors that align with your brand’s personality and the overall message you want to convey.

"Color plays an outsize role in brand recognition and buying decisions."

Yes, Color Matters in Marketing

Studies and surveys about color’s influence on consumer perception and behavior have found that:

  • Between 60 and 90 percent of consumers’ product decisions are based on color.
  • Color increases brand recognition by 80 percent.
  • Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said that they care about color more than any other visual element in website design.

Color matters. How have pharmaceutical companies applied the power of color when marketing and branding their corporate identities and products?

The (Pharma)Sea of Blue

The color blue signals trustworthiness and authority and is associated with well-being, cleanliness, and health. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s a popular color choice for brands in general and especially pharmaceutical brands. Blue is the most pervasive color in marketing and the logo color of choice for almost 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies. One survey of consumers conducted by digital and creative agencies found that 46 percent of respondents prefer that businesses use blue on their websites.

When Pfizer revealed its new logo in 2021, it featured two spiraling blue shapes, a darker and lighter shade, intertwined like a DNA double helix. The company explained the choice to stay firmly in the blue zone as the logo’s shape shifted away from the blue oval:

“We evolved the historic Pfizer blue to a vibrant, two-tone palette signifying Pfizer’s commitment to both science and patients. In an industry awash in blue, we’re doubling down. A choice that champions Pfizer’s history as a leader for the pioneers who have followed.”

Why is Blue So Popular?

Although Goethe linked blue with “common,” blue is now associated with many positive attributes including trust, intelligence, calm, dependability, loyalty, relaxation, maturity, protection, and honor. But how did these perceptions originate?

Blue is a manufactured color rather than one we generally see in nature. Blue gained prominence as a color for nobility because of this scarcity. Historians believe that ancient Egyptians were the first to create blue. Egyptian blue was invented in Ancient Egypt around 2,200 B.C., around the same time the Great Pyramids were built. The color was made by heating a mixture of limestone, sand, and a mineral containing copper, such as azurite. People also made blue dye from the leaves of a flowering plant called woad.

Because blue was costly to produce, it became associated with wealth and prestige. Painters reserved blue for subjects of high value. Early in the 5th century, it became associated with the Virgin Mary’s robes. Thus, the color blue gained connotations of purity, trustworthiness, and humility.

Over time, blue has become the hue of choice for authority figures. Many government officials and law enforcement officers wear blue, for instance. It is also popular for flags around the globe. These positive associations make this “unnatural” color a natural choice for businesses, including those in the pharmaceutical industry.

"Blue is now associated with a long list of positive attributes."

Beyond Blue

When considering marketing and color, aim to find the best color that identifies the personality and message of your brand and connects people to the story behind the brand. Blue has a lot going for it, which is one reason it appears so often in pharmaceutical branding. However, color can also be used to differentiate a brand from the competition. For instance, although Pfizer, Roche, AbbVie, and Amgen use blue in their logos, companies including Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, and Glaxo-SmithKline use red and orange. For examples of pharmaceutical brands boldly venturing into other shades, see Sanofi’s purple rebrand and Haleon’s bright green look.

Pharmaceutical brands use colors across the spectrum for their corporate and product logos. Sometimes these colors relate to the type of drug being promoted or the target demographic.

  • Red is a common choice across the industry and is especially popular for cardiovascular drugs.
  • Orange is associated with vitality, youthfulness, optimism, and confidence and is a common accent color.
  • Yellow, in darker shades, has appeared in branding related to men’s health. Pale yellow is among the shades used for women’s health logos, along with peach, mint, and light teal.
  • Green, and its appearance in nature, can evoke a sense of contentment and healing. It is the predominant color in Zyrtec’s branding, as opposed to competitor Claritin’s blue with a green accent. Both products are designed to help people with allergies enjoy the outdoors, so green is a natural choice.
  • Magenta and fuchsia are popular across a range of different drug types, from Humira to Ambien.
  • Purple, which is associated with leadership and wealth as well as passion and compassion, also has broad appeal, from Sanofi’s new look to the Nexium capsule, to the purple hand in the Bristol Myers Squibb logo, revealed in 2020.
  • Gray, often used instead of black for a drug’s generic name, gives the design a softer look.
  • Brown is generally avoided. Need we say more?

Color and Design in Pharmaceutical Branding

The main color in a logo is important but so is how it is combined with other colors and design elements.

  • Complementary color combinations with bright colors can energize a brand’s appearance.
  • Combining similar colors of different gradients can evoke sophistication and provide a soothing feeling.
  • Adding gray or black to the primary color adds a tone of seriousness or calm.
  • Shading matters too. Darker shades are seen as heavier, connoting seriousness and trustworthiness while lighter shades can be used to evoke creativity and youthfulness.

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How to Use Color in Marketing

Recognizing that color plays a major role in supporting your brand’s personality is the first step in your color journey. Choosing the best color for your brand depends on your brand identity and the story you want to tell. Color choice should be part of a general marketing strategy and focused on your specific target audience. To find the best color for your brand:

  • Identify the audience you want to attract. Color choice varies depending on the age, gender, lifestyle, culture, and geographical area of your target demographic.
  • Conduct market research to align your colors with your brand’s personality and your ideal buyer persona.
  • Test different color schemes to assess your audience’s response to your logo.
  • Specify your color choices, along with other design elements, in your brand guidelines to ensure that they are used consistently.
"A good strategy is to choose colors that align with your brand's personality."

Finding Your Color Voice

What do you want color to say about your and brand? Do you want to come off as a dependable, reliable, hard-working business? Do you want to evoke optimism, youthfulness, or luxury? Whether you need help choosing a color palette, designing a logo, or rebranding your business to better reflect your current personality, our creative team of experienced designers can help.

As a life science communications agency, we help companies with all aspects of design and communications and have experience researching and applying the power of color to help brands communicate their values and personality. Visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team to learn more.

As a strategic communications agency serving science- and R&D-driven organizations, we specialize in highly technical markets where complex ideas and information must be conveyed with clarity. Our team includes writers, designers, strategists and content architects, all working together to help you reach — and engage — your internal and external audiences.

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