Color Meaning: Red

Meaning of the Color Red

Red protects itself. No colour is as territorial. It stakes a claim, is on the alert against the spectrum. – Derek Jarman

No other color can command as much of an emotional extreme as the color red.  Rage, absolute fury, courage, passion, and love. Just seeing the color red can increase metabolism and heart rate, wearing it can increase testosterone and can rate you more attractive.  A waitress wearing the color red receives more tips. Red is the action color and used to describe; Paint the town red, Red Herring, Red-neck, Red-hot, Red Handed. Red is the cupid of love and the Devil himself.

Historically, use of the color red dates back to Neanderthals using red ochre 250,000 years ago.  It was smeared on their bodies, and later on cave walls. The early Egyptians had a great love of the color red, a favorite was a bright shade called cinnabar, a highly toxic mercuric compound and a death sentence to anyone who worked with it.  Later, in the 7th and 8th centuries an orangish-red shade called “minimum” was favored by artists, this was made of lead and highly toxic. In the 16th and 17th century Cochineal bugs were crushed to make a vivid red hue, these beetle,s due to their color properties, were the 3rd most valuable import to the New World from Europe, following gold and silver.

Meaning of the Color RedLighter shades of reds, as they move towards pink, tend to be more feminine.  It is interesting to note that red is the color of energy, of rising stress levels and accelerated heart rates whereas light pink is the most calming color. Often dangerous criminals cells are painted pink because it has shown that pink drains energy and calms aggression.

Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.  -Bill Blass

Mid-tone reds are the powerhouse, these true red hues can easily steal the show when used in advertising and design.  It is important to use them as accent colors, boldly highlighting something of interest. Think of your local Target store, the bullseye logo draw your eye in and can be spotted from a distance.  Caution should be used as too much red can activate the fight or flight response, increasing heart rate and promoting feelings of stress and aggression. Studies have shown that when a teacher or administrator is wearing red clothing, it hinders performance and lowers test scores, possibly an association with “red ink”.   These red tones increase appetite and are often used in fast food to create urgency and hunger.

Meaning of the Color RedDarker red tones such as burgundy and maroon have a more restrained and sophisticated association.  Wine and gems, expensive cars and old world wealth are often expressed in these jewel tone shades. In advertising and design, maroon and burgundy tones offer feelings of trust and security, serious without being cold.   Used in conjunction with other jewel shades as a background, these darker shades are often used to promote luxury goods and services.

Red can be a juxtaposition when used globally, and it is important to research cultural associations in countries where you plan to work or advertise.  In China, red brings good fortune, in Africa it is the color of mourning and if you have ever heard of Amsterdam’s famous “red light district”, red is all about sex.  Red’s energy and association can be tremendously beneficial when used to promote similar goods and services, or it could just as easily turn customers away if you do not understand the cultural bonds of this influential color.

As with all power colors, red should be used to highlight important points and to draw attention to key details.  Use red’s emotional energy to draw customers and clients in, but be cautious of overuse, as you may just as easily chase them away – often hungry, angry and definitely not in a state you want to be associated with your service or product.

Join us next week as we explore the color orange.

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