Color in healthcare marketing

Let’s talk about United Way and the “unignorable” color.

The United Way in Canada began a new campaign to bring attention to issues like domestic violence, mental health, poverty, homelessness and social isolation. They wanted to make it hard to ignore their message about these problems.

To do that, the organization worked with the Pantone Color Institute to create a unique shade that puts a spotlight on local issues — and can’t be overlooked.

The color is called “Unignorable,” and in the words of Laurie Pressman, VP Pantone Color Institute, “The Unignorable [color] boldly calls out for attention while remaining friendly, approachable and optimistic.”

In February 2019, the United Way Greater Toronto announced that supporters had raised $110.3 million. It was the world’s largest United Way campaign in 2018. The Unignorable campaign exceeded its fundraising goal.

Pantone's Unignorable color

The “Unignorable” shade created by United Way and Pantone. Image from United Way.


It takes much more than a color to move people to act. Still, there’s no doubt color has the power to move people, which is why it matters in healthcare branding.

The impact of color in healthcare marketing

Color is part of the perception process. It comes to us from our surroundings based on the differences in wavelengths of light. In short, color is perceived by the eye and translated by the brain.

Studies show that color is a powerful tool when it comes to marketing products and services. It’s related to the psychological, visual and technical qualities of most human-made endeavors. By some measures, it accounts for more than 80% of the reason someone purchases a product. Because color wordlessly conveys traits about an organization’s brand image and even stirs emotions, it can almost be considered a subliminal language.

So what are colors “saying” to healthcare consumers?

Blue speaks healthcare’s language

Take the color blue. There’s a reason it’s a dominant color in clinical settings and marketing materials. Aside from certain blues that may be considered more “energetic” than others (think, the bright blue WriterGirl uses), blues are usually soothing and promote thoughtfulness. They often bring to mind the cool, calming effects of the sea and sky.

WriterGirl logo

Blue is a common color in healthcare branding, but WriterGirl’s shade tends to be more of an “energetic” shade.

Blue can also represent success, trust and security. It’s not surprising that it’s a popular color for healthcare institutions and health insurance companies.

In healthcare environments, combining colors with images from nature are often used to maximize healing. A clinical setting that combines a soft sky-blue wall with a mural of a serene, azure lake may create a sense of restoration.

On the other hand, red or orange may be effective in another part of the clinic. A bright orange wall combined with the image of a glowing sunrise may be visually pleasing and stimulating for patients who are recovering.

Dressing for success: The case for coordinating colors

Even a healthcare professional’s attire may impact how a target audience responds. One study focused on color coordination between a scientific presenter’s clothing and the clinical information she was sharing on a poster.

During a conference, the presenter wore clothes in colors that coordinated with her clinical poster. At other times that same day, the presenter wore clothing that clashed with the poster’s colors.

The results were thought-provoking. The study found that wearing clothes that coordinate colors with clinical materials “may substantially increase the popularity of the poster and the likelihood that the research will be disseminated.”

Certainly, some factors placed limitations on the study. But a telling incident during the research was when the study’s observer overheard five different people say the presenter’s blouse didn’t match her poster — and none of those same commenters stopped to view the poster.

Keep health color preferences in mind

We can’t constantly change brand colors (or clothing) to please every age and gender. But it’s useful to note that color preferences play a part in how your audiences will respond to your marketing and environment.

What makes people prefer one color over another is as high and wide as the deep blue sky. Preferences are based on how we feel at any one time in life, how we want to feel and even how a color ties into certain experiences.

  • For instance, one study found a significant gender difference between yellow and orange. Women typically chose orange over yellow. Yellow is most often preferred by men instead of orange.
  • When it comes to age differences, the same study stated that “Blue and red maintain a high preference throughout life, but colors seem to drop down the list while other colors become more preferred. Yellow, for example, is well-liked by children, but begins to drop away by people as they become adults.” Also noted is the idea that as people mature, they tend to like hues such as blue, green and purple more than hues like red, orange and yellow.

Knowing such preferences exist, it may be helpful to dig further when choosing one of your healthcare brand’s color palettes for a specific audience. The perception of color is subjective and only general comments can be made. Still, understanding the complex emotional effect color can have on consumers may help you speak their language and connect them with your brand.

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