Not My Type: The Psychology Of Fonts In Marketing

by Susanna Quirke Inspiring Interns

Effective web design can heighten your brand, differentiate your product and even improve your ROI. But what role does typeface play in this?

A lot, as it turns out. “It’s hugely important as the world evolves that all of those involved in the future of communication and technology understand the power of type,” says font expert Sarah Hyndman.

Ignore font psychology at your own marketing peril.

The Theory

Visuals are more important than text, fact. You can write the most amazing copy, but if your packaging/web page/email doesn’t pop, it’ll go to waste. If you have a strong design identity, it doesn’t matter if your copy consists of hashtags or Tolstoy: you’ll have your reader’s attention.

Thanks to something called the picture superiority effect, we are more likely to recall visual stimuli than aural or textual. If you want your brand to be remembered, you’ll want to maximise its visual impact. That’s where typeface comes in.

Back in 2015, the afore-quoted Sarah Hyndman set up a series of experiments to explore the role of font in modern life. The surveys and questions that make up her ongoing research – freely available on the site – seek to answer five main questions:

  • Can a font make a product appear more expensive?
  • Do fonts have recognisable personalities?
  • Can a typeface alter the taste of what you eat?
  • Can a font alter the mood of what you read?
  • When is a Serif a better choice than a Sans Serif typeface and why?

Her findings are fantastic, and a brilliant read for any wannabe marketer. Fonts not only influence reader interpretation of a brand, but possess their own personalities. Marketing a strong, masculine product? Curlicues are not for you. Choice of font plays a crucial role in the emotional and judgmental response of a consumer.

As marketers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that fonts, colours and tonal decisions are consistent across all platforms and media. Careful, educated font choice is an easy way to adapt your copy to suit your brand. It’s how you construct a brand and – all being well – achieve the holy grail of ‘brand recognition’.

Choices, Choices…

There’s more to Adobe Typekit than Comic Sans. In fact, you should probably step away from that particular type right now, according to Jerry Lee. As the Creative Director at The Daily comments, “Today, there is little use for Comic Sans. The font carries a negative association that cheapens everything it graces.” Ouch.

So what should you pick? It depends, of course, on the brand identity you’re attempting to create. Serif fonts (those with decorative flourishes such as Times New Roman or Baskerville) project a sense of classicism, tradition and respectability. Sans serif (Helvetica, Ariel, Calibri) feels modern and futuristic. Script fonts (Zapfino, Brush Script) offer all the beauty of handwriting – as well as the problems with illegibility. And novelty fonts… Well, they’re for special cases.

Let’s take, as an example, the most essential product you might market: yourself. Resumes should act as a compliment to the image you wish to project. In the case of a job application, that might be dependable, forward-thinking and clean-cut – in which case Calibri is your friend. Or it may be classic and personable (Bookman Old Style) or “professional, light-hearted and honest” (Helvetica, apparently). Typeface will not only shape your personal brand but help your CV stand out from the pile.

The same rules apply to marketing. If you’re sending out a mass email about, say, a 20s-themed bar, Zapfino and Courier will serve your purposes better than Proxima Nova. If you’re selling robots, Proxima Nova beats Didot – and so on. There are plenty of guides on the net to consult re: the best typeface for your product, so get reading.

Studies In Typology

Let’s look at three very different, very famous logos. First up: Disney. The Disney logo – a brilliant, rainbow extravaganza of colour and curlicue – harnesses the creative power of the brand in a single, semi-illegible word.

The script-style font used in the logo is not intended for easy reading. That’s just as well, because the curling letters are difficult to follow for someone new to the brand. Instead, the typeface calls upon the fairytale, whimsical nature of the legendary storyteller to tell its own story: that of the Disney brand.

What about a more recent sample? The logo for Stranger Things, the hit horror Netflix show that owes a great deal to Stephen King, is a tour de force in psychological typography. The font – called ITC Benguiat – conjures nostalgic memories of old-school sci-fi, after its use for the 90s Star Trek movies. Its aggressively spiked curls hint at the horror genre and immediately place us in a retro, 80s environment. From its opening titles, Stranger Things is immersing us in its world – all through its choice of typeface.

Finally, the big one: Facebook. Facebook’s use of the Klavika font for its logo might seem, at first, a conservative choice. But the use of the bold font, with its lower-case F and sharpened K, projects an image of strength as well as modernity. Within the site itself, Zuckerberg opts for the more familiar Lucida Grande/Tahoma fonts – for mobile, the web designer favourite Helvetica. Facebook isn’t a cutting-edge technology but a familiar, dependable platform – a friend you can trust.

So whether you’re designing a website or an email, remember that font shouldn’t be the last thing you think about; it should be the first.


Susanna writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.