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What’s in a colour?

Oct 10, 2017
What’s in a colour?

The humble colour is something that most people are lucky enough to enjoy in their day to day lives, and as such many of us take it for granted. We’ll bet very few marketer’s stop to give colour a second thought in the average working day, perhaps only discussing its relevant when speaking with designers or developing a brand from scratch.  

Yet despite this relative lack of thought, in actual fact colour is a highly important element of a marketer’s arsenal and could be used to much better effect than is generally presumed. Here are 3 interesting discussions underway at the moment on the relationship between colour and marketing.

1. Colour influences purchasing decisions

The relationship between colour and brand is often understood at a basic level among marketers and designers alike. Small Biz Trends argues that ‘colour has been known to have a powerful psychological impact on people’s behaviour and decisions.’ Oft-repeated connotations include that red is associated with excitement and passion and so is often used for fast-paced industries and sales, while blue conveys professionalism and tranquillity and is thus used by brands seeking to build trust or promote conservatism.  

With this basic understanding as context, early last month Marketing Week wrote a piece about how brands are using colour to influence purchase decisions. The article argues that ‘the relationship between colour and brand identity must be carefully constructed but used well it can be a critical component in any branding toolkit,’ pointing to the recent NatWest rebrand as a good example of how colour can be used to stand out from the competition.

Marketing Week believes that the importance of colour lies in the fact that though ‘a brand may be recognised by name, logo or product type […] the first thing to catch a consumer’s eye is often its colour.’ Some brands are now icons in how to use colour as part of your brand, with Cadbury’s purple or Fortnum & Mason turquoise often recognisable without any wording or introduction. This means consumers will go back time and again to purchase a brand that they trust in and which feels comforting to them.

2. Colour fuels emotional responses

Not only do the colours employed impact on a brand’s bottom line by contributing to purchasing decisions, colour is also responsible for driving a customer’s emotional response to the brand as a whole. This has a knock on effect for everything from building trust between brand and customer to driving engagement with specific campaigns.

Digital Next and InstantPrint have both used a helpful colour-emotion chart to map out the emotional responses driven by each shade in more detail than the simplified versions mentioned above. Digital Next argues that ‘one of the main points you have to take into account when choosing your brands colours is your target audience,’ as perceptions and emotional responses can vary greatly by age, gender or geographic location. Primary colours are often favoured by brand’s looking to engage with young children or energetic youths, whereas more neutral purples and greens can often be more attractive to an older audience looking for reassurance and stability.  

InstantPrint argues that this should be tied closely to the ethos you wish to portray as a brand and focus on the mood you want your consumers to associate with your offering. InstantPrint concludes that ‘knowing which colours help to support your message will not only make a huge difference in how a consumer reacts to your brand, but more importantly, how they remember your brand.’

3. Colour has the power to change perceptions

Precisely because colour in understood in a way which does not require words, it is the perfect tool for portraying subliminal messages that contribute to changing perceptions in a way few advertising campaigns achieve. 

Although not a marketing endeavour, the recent art project “Humanae,” which documented human skin tones using the Pantone colour palette, is the perfect example of how to change perceptions using colour. Conceived by Brazilian artist Angelica Dass in a bid to demonstrate that questions of race and colour are never as simple as words like black, white, mixed often seem to suggest. Using the Pantone colour guides so well-known to designers the world over, and taking an 11x11 pixel sample from the subject’s face which she had photographed, Dass explained in her TED talk that she set out to make an online and in the streets campaign that would ‘foster a popular debate and create a feeling of community.’

Asking us to rethink how we see each other at a time when questions of race and colour are so hotly debated, marketers can learn from the powerful way in which Dass employs colour to spark conversation and get your message noticed on the global stage. Whatever your goal as a brand or in a specific campaign, marketers can employ the value of colour in their work in highly nuanced ways that meet with their objectives.


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