A brand’s choice of colour is a fundamental element that reinforces both its personality and the qualities of the products and/or services it offers.
Some brands are so iconic that it is possible to identify them from just a single pantone colour without an accompanying logo. Others, including Cadbury, Barbie and UPS, have even gone so far as to trademark their defining shades. So why do brands place such importance on colour and what impact does it have on the way consumers perceive them?
Let’s look at some research and then some famous examples.
Research compiled by Colorcom suggests that consumers “make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.”
Further research indicates that brand recognition can be increased by up to 80% by effective use of colour throughout marketing, packaging and logo design. Whilst other marketing elements including the targeting of advertising and effective product copy are of importance to a brand’s voice, its core individuality and memorability could lie within its carefully selected colour palette.
Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, with several potential factors affecting an individual’s perception of colour. Let’s take cultural upbringing as an example: the colour red is commonly associated with luck and prosperity throughout Asia, whereas it can represent love, passion or even danger in western societies. These differences are important to consider when targeting specific geographical or ethnic audiences as part of a marketing strategy.
Personal colour preference could also have some bearing on a consumer’s loyalty to certain brands. In this colour assignment study, the most mutually disliked colours of men and women include orange, yellow and brown. Purple, on the other hand, appeared to be the least favourite colour of almost a quarter of all male respondents compared to just 8% of female respondents. It is perhaps superficial to suggest that a male customer wouldn’t purchase from a well-established brand just because its logo happens to feature the colour purple. Then again, I’d like to invite you to recall a brand with a predominantly male target audience that places emphasis on this colour.
Of course, brands tread a very fine line when it comes to choosing typically masculine or feminine colours. Using them to market products can lead to consumers feeling patronised and stereotyped, as demonstrated by the infamous BIC pink biro furore of 2012.
Equally, if the colour of a product does not appropriately represent its purpose, this can confuse and even damage a brand’s sense of identity.
Put simply, whilst there is no cast-iron guarantee that using specific colouration will assist you in achieving success with your brand strategy, there are certainly strong parallels between colour and brand perception across product sectors.
Below are some notable examples that illustrate how colour can influence a consumer’s impression of a brand or its products.
Let’s start with an obvious example: the fast food giant McDonald’s. Its logo is one of the most recognised in the world and its striking red backdrop dominates its branding. This signature red appears on their signage, the walls of their restaurants and even Ronald McDonald himself.
It is widely claimed that red is the most appetising colour in the spectrum. Reasons for this vary from its ability to increase your heartrate (and therefore kick-start digestion) to simply an overexposure to coincidentally red food marketing campaigns over time.
Either way, you’d be hard pressed to find a fast food outlet that is not dominated by a shade of red as part of its brand strategy.
With its ‘golden arches’ in yellow (typically an energetic and happy colour), the McDonald’s logo could quite literally translate into ‘fast and delicious’ – everything your chicken nuggets should be.
The emotional perception of the colour green is typically dependent on the shade. Usually, bright, warm yellow-greens are energising, fresh and healthy, deeper blue-greens more relaxing, and earthy greens natural or eco-friendly. I’ll briefly touch on all three in this section.
The characteristic green of the Nuffield Health brand is also synonymous with pharmacies across the world. With their growing number of hospitals and gyms, it is understandable why Nuffield Health have opted for a vibrant green as their flagship colour. The saturation and vibrancy of the shade conveys energy, vitality and strength.
It is worth noting how this colour is translated across to the Nuffield Health website. Notice how it is continuously used throughout banners, footers and even tinted photography on their homepage, demonstrating an exceptionally consistent, strong brand image. It is certainly very eye-catching.
Whilst your daily skinny-triple-shot-decaf caramel macchiato can hardly be categorised as healthy, what’s more relaxing than starting your day with a coffee in your favourite squashy armchair at your local Starbucks? The cool blue-green of their logo signifies just that: it is rich, welcoming and intense, everything they want you to believe their coffee is.
Back, for a moment, to McDonald’s. You may have noticed that its usual red backdrop has been replaced with an earthy green when you last visited your local UK high street. This is thanks to their 2009 brand overhaul which was rolled out across Europe ‘to promote a more eco-friendly image’, as reported by NBC. In the article, the vice chairman of McDonald’s Germany expressed that they aim to clarify their ‘responsibility for the preservation of natural resources. In the future [McDonald’s] will put an even larger focus on that.’
This new environmentally conscious guise has been strengthened more recently by its accompanying UK ad campaigns such as ‘Chicken McNuggets’ which further emphasises the natural and ethical sourcing of its ingredients.
Purple, particularly in deep or vibrant tones, has been a common denotation of royalty and luxury for centuries. The alleged reason for this? The original price of purple dye being too costly for all but the very wealthy to afford.
Despite not being the most frequently used colour in modern-day marketing, at least three popular purple brands come to my mind: Cadbury, Aussie Hair & Liberty London.
A long-established high-end British brand; Liberty London exudes luxury, as can be observed by the store’s exhuberant décor and mock-Tudor exterior. It presents itself as a heritage-conscious, lavish place to shop, with a large focus placed on its exquisite fabric collection. By choosing purple, Liberty asserts its place amongst London’s most extravagant department stores.
Estate agents are also beginning to favour the colour; using it to advocate the quality of their properties and excellent service.
Like green, different shades of blue carry different meanings.
Dark, rich blue has been heavily adopted by technology and motoring brands to signify intelligence, confidence and reliability. Commonly associated with corporatism, it is unsurprising that some of the biggest names in these sectors have chosen the colour to forefront their identities.
In contrast, mid-to-light toned blues are commonly used in the medical, beauty and healthcare industries to indicate cleanliness. Generally speaking, the brighter the colour, the more clinical the product.
Blue can also be a safe bet if you’re looking to appeal to a wide audience. After all, everyone needs to brush their teeth and bleach the toilet. A YouGov study suggests it is the world’s favourite colour, mutually preferred by 40% of males and 24% of females.
It is important to note the rarity of the colour blue in food branding. Blue is understood to be an appetite suppressant, as it is rarely found in natural food products.
Regardless of whether you love or hate them, Apple have gone through quite an evolution when it comes to their branding and marketing. Let’s take a look at their 1977 logo on the left and their present-day logo on the right.
Now let’s pretend the two logos represent two different brands and you’re looking to buy a cutting-edge laptop with the latest technology seamlessly built into a sleek, modern design. Which brand would you trust more to deliver on these expectations? I’m willing to bet you chose the grey one.
Unlike bright primary colours, grey is typically emotionless and neutral, making it perfect for mass marketing. For a sophisticated and well-established technology company, grey can be a great choice: it is understated, timeless and reflects the materials from which the products are made. Perhaps this explains why greyscale is adopted so frequently in marketing campaigns throughout the sector.
In comparison to black (which can be perceived as masculine and overpowering), this mid-tone grey is in no way divisive. Indeed, whether you’re earning £20,000 or £200,000, you likely use at least one Apple product – a sign of a truly universal brand.
At a push, Apple’s multicoloured logo could pass as creative and unconventional. It certainly appears almost juvenile in comparison to its modern counterpart, though that’s not to say other brands haven’t garnered success with similar palettes…
Consistency is vital to ensuring a brand has a coherent voice. By choosing a small palette of two to four colours and employing them throughout their marketing channels, brands strengthen their identities and memorability in the eye of the consumer.
Next time you shop with your favourite brand, consider why you trust them to deliver on their product or service. You may provide several different reasons, depending on past customer experience, but it may also be your subconscious colour preferences nudging you in the right direction.