Yellow logos: what the cheerful color says about your brand

Branding would be a fantastically easy task if every Pantone color were genetically keyed to a specific emotional response from every consumer. But this is the real world, and building a successful brand takes a lot more than spinning a color wheel. With that said, there are some broad-strokes assertions we can make about the psychology of color in a marketing context.

We’ve published articles on the colors blue and red in branding. Here we’ll examine the color yellow and the way it affects branding, paying particular attention to the ways in which some of today’s largest and most successful brands with yellow logos have used the color to their advantage.


What does yellow say about your brand?

Joe Hallock undertook an interesting study in 2003 to define, among other things, the effects of color on human psychology. One segment of the study looked at associations, i.e., the emotional and qualitative associations we make with various colors. Overall, yellow tended to rate among respondents’ least favorite colors—but the study also looked at qualifiers such as trust, security, speed, quality, frugality, reliability, courage, fear and fun. Yellow scored lowest on quality, reliability, and courage metrics; slightly higher on speed and trust; and highest on frugality and fun. Among age groups, yellow fared best among those between 36 and 60 years old, though it was not highest rated in any age category.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 11.13.49 AM

Logo on left designed for co-working tech office, Launch Scene; logo on right designed for digital marketing company YO! Media

So with these less than glowing reviews, what does a yellow logo communicate about a brand? Overall the message is one of bargain prices and fun. Yellow seems to appeal to the kid in us, and is associated with feelings of cheerfulness, originality and warmth—suggesting that companies offering pleasurable, fast, accessible products or services may benefit from using yellow in their branding.

What successful brands use yellow effectively?

McDonald’s. Everyone recognizes the “golden arches” of Ray Crock’s ubiquitous fast-food chain, McDonald’s. Whether along a city street, suburban mallscape, or open highway, the big yellow “M” is universally recognized as a symbol for fast cheap eats. That symbol can be seen at over 35,000 locations worldwide and has helped the company boost 2013 revenues to over $28B. So they must be doing something right.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 11.26.49 AM

Best Buy. Electronics and appliance retailer Best Buy has successfully used the big yellow price tag to identify itself to cost-conscious consumers since 1983. The yellow tag is clearly identifiable as a symbol of reduced cost (and special price cuts), helping Best Buy to garner sufficient customer loyalty to withstand even harsh economic times that closed competitors like Circuit City.

Ikea. The Swedish retailer of inexpensive, assemble-yourself furniture has made a big name for itself in the U.S. over the past 30 years (the first U.S. location opened in 1985). The familiar yellow and blue logo reflects the colors of the Swedish flag and the company’s heritage while creating a bright contrast and an easily recognized logo.


Is yellow right for your brand?

Yellow is an attention grabber, especially when used as a contrast color (either as a yellow field or yellow lettering against a sharply contrasting field, like blue). If speed, fun, and low cost are important factors to your target audience, you may consider yellow as a principal color in your branding. Yellow is also effective as a secondary or highlight color and is associated with optimism, warmth and clarity. Your designer can experiment with different shades and tones, as well as with complementary and contrasting colors.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 11.33.03 AM

Design by eAnkaStudio; check out the contest here

The fine print

Remember that color is only one element of your brand’s personality. Context matters. In fact, it’s essential. No one color is going to say everything you want it to say without the proper context. Determining your company’s mission, values and personality will help your designer choose a color that best sets up your brand for success.

As the series continues, we’ll look at other colors and the ways you can put them to work in your branding strategy.

The author

Cecily Kellogg
Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg became an accidental designer when she worked at a short-handed non-profit and although she now prefers designing with words, the lessons she learned from doing graphic design make her work in content development more well-rounded. She writes about the intersection of family, technology, and social media for Babble Tech and runs her own web content business. She is also known for her raw tone and humor on various social media platforms including her own blog, Uppercase Woman. Cecily lives in the Philadelphia area, is happily married, is mom to a fierce and amazing daughter, and has occasionally been called a bad ass.

Related articles

22 beautiful real estate logos that close the deal

22 beautiful real estate logos that close the deal

Have you ever seen a house like the one below before? Of course you have—not in reality but in logo design. The world of real estate logos is littered with sloping roofs and square windows, suspended in abstract space or agglomerated onto one another in physically baffling clusters. They’re ubiquitous, they’re boring and they make…

9 hot logo design trends for 2017

9 hot logo design trends for 2017

What logo and branding trends are going to define 2017? Today, we’re gazing into the future at nine popular logo trends. From simplification to unique typography to animation, these are what we’re predicting will be hot in the new year. 1. Broken letters — Stencils? Spray paint? Not quite. In 2017 we can expect designers to be taking broken…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.