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Brands: colouring your world (and your purchase decisions)

Brands: colouring your world (and your purchase decisions)

Colour psychology is hardly new. We know that colours evoke an emotional response, and that is exactly why smart brands choose and use colours very carefully in their brand identities, to evoke a reliable, emotional response that positively impacts your purchasing decision and brand association.

Colour is an essential part of the brand identity which consumers use to remember, differentiate, and trust your brand. As Catriona Burgess, Strategy Director at Frost nicely puts it, “what the identity must do is demonstrate genuine difference and create what we call a mnemonic – something to be remembered by”. 

Catriona Burgess from Frost

Catriona Burgess from Frost

The right colour in a logo should not just make you want to buy. It should also make you feel great about the fact that you are buying, and embed a warm, fuzzy feeling about the brand you are giving money to.

The right colour decision in logo design can also assist in brand differentiation in congested, competitive categories. We know we can always depend on Coca Cola to be red. We know what colour to look for in the drink fridge, it’s a visual clue. We don’t need to read the typeface on a Tiffany jewellery gift box. The Tiffany blue tells us instantly what brand we have been gifted, and an immediate emotional response follows shortly after, thanks to a heavy investment in the brand colour by the trademark owner.

Coke fridge

Coke fridge

Photographic firm Kodak was the first company to trademark a signature colour. Since then, there has been a colour grab in the patent courts. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from.

Tiffany Blue (also known as PMS 1837) was used on the cover of Tiffany’s Blue Book, first published in 1845 and has since been used extensively by the company on promotional materials, signage, and packaging. It’s protected as a colour trademark by the company. They own it. And if you try to use it, you can expect a strongly worded letter from Tiffany’s high-priced lawyers.

Tiffany Blue

The colour to a woman’s heart

Tiffany blue is a private custom Pantone colour, (PMS 1837), which is also the year of Tiffany’s foundation. As a trademarked colour, it’s not publicly available and is not printed in the Pantone Matching System swatch books.

Canary yellow used in conjunction with the name “Post-it” is a trademark of 3M. Post-It notes and yellow go together in a wonderful, sticky-reminder union. If you’re not convinced about the value of colour in brands, just ask someone what word comes to mind if you say the term “Post-it”, and see what they say. “Yellow” should be a common response. That’s meaningful and very valuable.

Post-It notes

Yeah, all she said was “let’s make them yellow”

It’s not just logo design where the brand colour wars are being fought. The latest colour cat fight is happening between French shoe designer Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent (YSL). Louboutin’s ladies shoes feature a bright red sole. Louboutin sued YSL alleging that several of its shoes infringed Louboutin’s trademark on women’s shoes with a red outsole, which was granted to the company in 2008 by America’s Patent and Trademark Office.

Louboutin Red

Louboutin Red

The district court in New York refused to grant Louboutin a preliminary injunction stopping Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) from selling shoes with a red soles. In denying the request for an injunction, the judge said that in the fashion industry colour serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition. He went further, saying that no fashion designer should be allowed a monopoly on colour because as artists they all need to be able to use the full palette. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Louboutin’s annual revenue is estimated at $135 million per annum, so there is a lot riding (high) on that red sole.

Large, complex brands can effectively use colour to help clarify brand architecture, with a primary brand colour assigned to the parent symbol or logo, and taglines, and secondary colours assigned to discrete business units or functions.

The Logo Co in the US has developed this excellent logo colour (color) emotion guide infographic. It speaks for itself, and clearly demonstrates the meaning of colours in logos and the associated emotion that the brand owner wants us to feel when we see the brand.

Logo Co's colour emotion guide

Logo Co’s colour emotion guide

  • Yellow equals optimism, clarity, and warmth: McDonalds, Hertz, Schweppes, Ray White, Ikea, Nikon, and Shell.
  • Orange brands are friendly, cheerful and confident: Hooters, Nickelodeon, Amazon, Fanta, Harley Davidson, and Jetstar.
  • Kellogs, Target, Avis, CocaCola, Nintendo, QANTAS, Lego, City of Gold Coast, Ducati and KFC are red. They are all exciting, youthful, and bold brands.
  • Purple equals Cadbury, Hallmark, Yahoo!, and Barbie. They are creative, imaginative, and wise brands.
  • Blue brands are trustworthy: Facebook, Oral B, vimeo, Pfizer, Oreo, American Express, ANZ, Twitter, and VW.
  • Brands that want you to think they are environmentally friendly, peaceful, and healthy choose green: BP, Starbucks, Holiday Inn, Woolworths, Europcar.
  • Silver brands like Apple, Mercedes, Wikipedia, and Honda are aiming for a balanced, neutral, and calm brand association.

Then there are the brands that think they can have it all. Multi-coloured brands like Google, eBay, Windows, and NBC. They are diverse, multi-faceted, confident, and successful.

It’s complicated, but don’t let it make you feel too blue. Here are some a guidelines and questions to keep in mind when choosing a colour palette for your brand:

  1. What feeling or emotion are you aiming for to be associated with your brand?
  2. Limit the number of colours – Bench creative in Sydney recommends a maximum of three or less. Complex, multi-coloured logos can be expensive to reproduce and can limit usefulness when it comes to printing and when you need your logo to be tiny, like on a business card or a social media avatar.
  3. Ensure it looks good in black and white.
  4. If there is a parent brand, ensure it compliments it, and doesn’t detract or clash when the two brands have to go side-by-side (co-branding). This also applies to other potential co-brand partners.
  5. Make sure you have a few options built, and do your market research with customers, suppliers, and employees.
  6. Consider your competition’s brand equity colours. Do you want to mimic them or stand out from the crowd? Both might be valid options.
  7. Does the colour need to be legally protected, like Tiffany and Cadbury have done?
  8. How does it look on-screen, and on a mobile device?
  9. If your business has signage, how does the colour look back-lit, and in large format?
  10. Does the colour have any negative or positive perceptions for your target market, including overseas markets? (Especially in China, where colours carry specific meanings). Deloitte have done their homework on this issue.
  11. Will the colour be sustainable, and still meaningful in twenty years?
  12. Will the colour system be flexible enough to allow for a range of dynamic applications (website, uniforms, business cards, signage, vehicles, advertising)?
  13. If you are selling a product, how does the brand colour work with your packaging design?
  14. If you are re-branding, will retiring your existing colour(s) potentially confuse existing customers and stakeholders?
  15. Finally, and most importantly, is the colour associated with your brand’s broader strategy and business objectives?

It goes without saying, colour is about more than ‘making it pretty’. Take your time, do your research, and don’t go for a cheap and easy option.

If you commission a logo designer, ensure they know about colour, so that you don’t end up with a costly, complex logo that doesn’t work on a mobile device, hurts your customers eyes, makes them feel the wrong thing about your brand and offends your Chinese customer base!

If you have any topic suggestions or burning brand questions, feel free to drop me a line in the comments box below, or tweet me @brandstanding.

Stuart Austin
No Comments
  • Murray
    Posted at 10:35h, 04 November Reply

    Oh Catronia Burgess!

  • Matt Bremner
    Posted at 21:19h, 04 November Reply

    Psychologically speaking, branded colour is” classical conditioning” A stimulus is presented which evokes a responce due to blue is class…red is coke just as pavolos bell indicated food to salivating dogs.

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