A few months ago I created a WhatsApp group for my immediate family and our partners. The pros include: no one is accused of having favourites when sharing news, we don't all need to react to mum's memes each time, no one forgets to say happy birthday. Cons: 8 people is enough to have vastly different takes on the government's recent Coronavirus update. Including whether or not it's confusing. 

There's been a lot of messages.  

It's led me to think about why a small group of us have taken such different meanings from the government comms. Beyond our normal political differences, that is. I do think colour has something to do with it. Interestingly, my boyfriend said he didn't even notice the colour and that the message was pretty clear. For me on the other hand, it was the first thing I noticed. Maybe that's why one of us is a lawyer and the other works in a creative agency. 

Colour psychology says that colour can subconsciously influence emotions, and how humans react to things such as the taste of food, products, and experiences. This is because we're biologically wired to pay attention to them. We take notice of bright colours because brightly coloured animals or plants are often poisonous. We’re drawn to red fruit over green fruit because the colour indicates ripeness and sweetness. 

Marketers and creatives use colour to influence emotion and nudge behaviour all the time. In fact, according to research from QuickSprout, colour is responsible for 85% of the reasoning behind making a particular purchase.

While an individual's response to colour is influenced by their memories, interactions, and experiences, there are trends. Red and Green are good examples.


A colour associated with our physical needs whether that is romance/love or fear/survival. It can also mean aggression "seeing red", and is commonly used to show danger. For most, it means stop as seen on traffic lights but right now it also means "Stop doing the things you normally do. Stop going out. The virus is dangerous. Lives are at risk". . . 

Green, on the other hand. 

Green is universally associated with nature and safety, linked to grass, plants and trees. It also represents growth and new beginnings. Green is also commonly associated with taking action "getting the green light", or as with traffic lights, just "go". As in "Go outside. Be in nature. Sunbathe. Be active and take unlimited exercise. Go back to work. Go back to normal". Perhaps we can all relax now that the "grass is greener" and things are better?

It is a confusing time without confusing messages. While I appreciate the challenges associated with relative threats changing and policy is being created in realtime, comms needs to be clear and straightforward. It's not up to the audience to infer meaning. 

That means aligning the language and visual cues. 

When audiences are swamped with information, anything that isn't super clear right now is . . . unclear. 

You can read more about the language side of things over on my colleague Lee's post: The use of simple language.