HBO’s Rebrand Uses Color Psychology to Appeal

The use of color psychology is subliminal

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan
Jun 3 · 4 min read
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Photo by Oleksandra Bardash on Unsplash

HBO’s recent rebrand is giving me some mixed feelings, but without a doubt, it’s a substantial change to a norm I’ve been used to. HBO Max first came up when I tried to get on HBO Now a couple of days ago with my phone. It prompted me to update to HBO Max. It was pretty clear I didn’t have a choice, so I just did it while washing dishes for the next couple of minutes as it updated.

When it did, I looked up what was new about HBO Max. It is a new platform, released on May 27, that has 10,000 hours of premium content with a lot of movies. It includes a collection of new shows like “Friends,” “South Park,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and the movies in the Studio Ghibli collection.

I yawned when I read that, but when I first downloaded HBO Max, it was the rebrand of the logo that caught my attention. Instead of the logo being the traditional black and white colors of HBO, it was purple and white.

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Color psychology is the study of color hues as a determinant in human behavior, since colors have qualities that enhance emotions in people. Sure, HBO Max has a lot of new movies and shows I’m interested in watching, but the color rebrand was what struck me the most.

I’m not sure it’s something marketers at HBO really thought about that much, but it struck out to me. It was a departure from the age-old tradition of the HBO logo for something, well, very different. For the first time, HBO has embraced bright and rich colors in its marketing.

The shift in mixing purple and white as opposed to HBO’s iconic mix, black and white, has the effect of us seeing HBO as royal, rich, and elite. Both the black and white and purple and white color mixes are effective because they have contrast — a key to effective use of color psychology. A mix of orange and yellow uses two very similar colors that wouldn’t be effective.

Black is the color of sophistication, control, and independence. It is a reserved color often used in professional attire, luxury products, and limousines. It connotates the seriousness of a lot of HBO content and the fact that we should take HBO as a streaming service very seriously.

Purple, however, is much less of a reserved color. It’s a color of risktaking, energy, and is known for its imagination and spirituality. It shows luxury, mystery, and magic. It’s a soothing and risktaking color but is at the same time associated with creativity.

“When using purple, avoid using it too often as it can also cause too much introspection or distraction as thoughts begin to wonder,” writes Ashton Hauff at CoSchedule.

These are all vast generalizations about how people perceive color. You and I might perceive purple and black very differently based on our experiences and cultures. However, a simple look at my home screen shows the following apps:

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To me, the biggest color combinations are blue and white (Twitter, Safari, Mail, LinkedIn, Waze, Venmo, GroupMe), and then followed by purple and white (Amazon Music, Instagram, Lyft, HBO Max). Clearly, HBO Max was following a trend.

Most people probably don’t think about these things consciously when they go through their apps. I know for sure that I don’t. But the use of color psychology is subliminal — I find myself clicking on HBO Max more than I was on HBO Now.

Of course, a lot is going into that. I’m trying to distract myself from the pandemic and the news, as well as just a random trend of me watching TV more. Since it’s a rebrand, it’s novel by definition and I definitely notice it when I scroll on my phone. It’s different, and perhaps in a week or so I’ll forget all about it.

But it sticks out to me now, and I never thought of how using a different color for your company, business, or blogging profile could affect how people perceive your product. Of course, there are more important things to worry about, like the customer and the product itself. I don’t doubt that the effect of the color of your logo is more effective than your actual logo itself.

For all we know, changing the color might be a huge manipulation of the placebo effect. But does it work? That remains to be seen, but Time Warner Inc., HBO’s parent company, has seen a yearly high in its stock price ever since the release of HBO Max. The high is most likely from new content itself, but I can’t be the only person who notices the new colors.

Want a good rebrand? Then maybe take a lesson from HBO, research color psychology, and experiment with your colors.

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Thanks to Niklas Göke

Ryan Fan

Written by

Ryan Fan

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire,” God’s gift to the Earth. E-mail: ryanfan17@gmail.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

Ryan Fan

Written by

Ryan Fan

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire,” God’s gift to the Earth. E-mail: ryanfan17@gmail.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice & case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and efficiently.

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