Why are so many fast food logos red?

McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King... The list goes on. But why is red so prominent in so many logos?
McDonald's and Google
McDonald's and Google / Anadolu/GettyImages

Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut. They all have one thing in common, and it’s not just that they’re fast food restaurants… They all have red prominently in their logos.

Sure some have other colors, like Burger King and McDonald’s which also heavily feature yellow. But there’s a reason for all of that – the red, and the red and yellow combination – that goes beyond it looking nice, or a cascade effect of one outlet using red and then everyone following suit.

So, let’s get into it. Here’s why so many fast food logos are red, as well as the reason burger places in particular also mix in yellow.

Here’s why so many fast food logos are red:

Pizza Hut Shop Exterior Signage, Colliers Wood, London, UK
Pizza Hut Shop Exterior Signage, Colliers Wood, London, UK / Peter Dazeley/GettyImages

There are a couple of reasons why red is used so predominantly in fast food logos, and it’s not limited to the list we mentioned before. In-N-Out, Dairy Queen, Carl’s Jr., Hardees, Five Guys, Sonic, Popeye’s, Arby’s… Honestly, the only logo that doesn’t seem to tend towards red is Taco Bell. Otherwise, the unofficial motto of all fast food is “better red than dead,” which has some disturbing historical connotations so let’s just strike that last part from the record.

The explanation for all that red comes from a surprising source: a thesis dissertation by a woman named Alyssa Dupont from 2014, at the University of New Hampshire. Alyssa is currently an Account Executive at SaaScend, but as it turns out she’s also extremely intuitive about fast food logos. As previously reported at The Daily Meal, the reason behind the colors is that customers make most of their judgments on anything based on color alone.

You can probably figure out this part, but red – particularly for drivers – means “stop.” So as you’re driving around looking for a meal, if you see a big red Wendy’s sign you’re more likely to pull over than if the building was painted green or blue.

Red is also a color, according to a study from the University of Winnipeg, that stimulates hunger, asserts dominance, and yes, provokes arousal. Perhaps not specifically of the sexual kind, but it does quicken your heart's pace and makes you more excited – which if the fast food franchise is lucky means you’re more likely to be interested to eat there.

Additionally, since red is such a heightened experience of a color, you’re more likely to stay excited and motivated while in the restaurant, meaning you’ll get in and get out, which is part of the whole “fast” food experience.

So that’s red, but what about yellow?

Why fast food restaurant logos are red and yellow: Inside the “ketchup and mustard” effect

Fast Food Giant Burger King
Fast Food Giant Burger King / Mario Tama/GettyImages

Per its name, the “ketchup and mustard effect” definitely queues up feelings of wanting a burger, according to Delish. Not that most of us can taste colors, but the thought of a burger can conjure up feelings of hunger, which translate into a more likely result of you heading into the restaurant to order food.

However, there’s more to the color scheme than simply “this is what’s on a burger, come inside.”

While we’ve covered what feelings are elicited by the color red, yellow is the second most prominent color in the Burger King and McDonald’s signs because yellow equals happiness. That’s, in particular, McDonald’s whole thing, from the Happy Meal to the fact that the Golden Arches of the “M” are two upside-down smiles. These are usually called frowns, but they’ve been pretty successful with the whole “business” thing so we’ll let it slide.

Regardless, this combo of colors doesn’t just stimulate hunger, they also put potential diners in a better mood when they’re coming in. Which seems the antithesis of the inside of a fast food joint in the middle of the night, but maybe it’s too dark at that point for the colors to cheer you up.

So there you go! That’s why there’s so much red (and yellow) on fast food logos. Now that you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But even though you’re now savvy to how the fast food joints are psychologically manipulating you doesn’t mean you’ll be able to resist their siren call.

Got questions about history, trivia, or anything else? Send an email to askeverest@fansided.comand we might answer here on the site!

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