How Colour Defines a Company’s Identity

Take a second and think of your favourite drink…

What springs to mind first? Its name or its colour?

According to psychologist and professor Jennifer Aaker’s paper, “Dimensions of Brand Personality”, our brains store objects according to their colour. When it comes to brands, we’re no different. Colour is the first thing we remember about a brand, and this is followed by its graphics, numbers and eventually words. In this case, if you want your brand to be memorable, the colours you choose are an important factor. Were you aware that humans make a subconscious decision about an environment, person, or product in just 90 seconds? Aaker’s studies reveal that roughly 62-90% of that opinion is made according to the colour.

There are various reasons why we associate colours with certain feelings, and this affects why we choose the products that we do. So, let’s test this…

Crisp lover? Of course you are. Walk into a shop and cast your eye over the varieties of crisps available and if you are anything like us at Jessica Draws HQ, you are more likely to opt for the green packet, expecting, and rightly so, for them to be Salt and Vinegar flavour. Yum! If at home you enjoy a pack of Prawn Cocktail crisps, you are more likely to instinctively lean towards all the packs in pink before choosing one. Likewise, you pick a red packet if something a little simpler is your usual choice. However, disparity between British and American brands may have confused you here, straying you to mistakenly buy the wrong flavour. American brands such as ‘Lay’s’, usually use green packaging for their Sour Cream and Onion flavour crisps, pink for the BLT flavour and red for Flamin’ Hot, which is is enough to send our poor little brains into meltdown.

Above is a simple example of how colour can play a vital role in defining and communicating a brand’s personality. However, this same point is relevant across a wide range of categories, for example perfumes, alcohol, or medicines. Though, the psychology of colour and how it relates to what we end up purchasing is one of the most common discussions in design and marketing.

When a brand is first developing, one of the key things the company and designer must decide is whether to stick to stereotypical colour associations, or pick a colour which sets them apart from their competition. Of course, this can be a bit of a tricky situation, especially if you are just starting out and haven’t identified your brand’s personality yet.

On the other hand, imagine you are launching a brand of menthol cigarettes, a product which is known for having connections with the colour green. It would be a pretty hefty challenge to totally redefine colour associations with the category. However, at the same time it would be a major mistake to look distinctively like your competitors. What is a designer to do?

The key here is to find a fine line between relevance and distinctiveness. Your product’s brand needs to be able to subtly stay in line with what a consumer is familiar with so they can recognise it, whilst being distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd, simple…NOT! To delve deeper into this point, let’s check out the fast food industry. KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) was introduced in 1991 and the brand had an advantage of defining colour associations in the industry, eventually choosing red as its primary colour. Meanwhile, McDonald’s was founded in 1995 and developed its identity to retain the colour red for relevance. Though the brand also introduced yellow to be distinct in the market.

However, some industries don't follow a pattern. For example, car companies perhaps make use of majority of the colour chart. From blue (Ford), black (Mini), silver (Bentley) and red (Kia) to green (Land Rover), Yellow (Ferrari) and Gold (Chevrolet). This is because although they are all selling the same product essentially, each car is marketed to a different audience, for a different purpose (let's say city use and country use) and are purposely branded to evoke different feelings. Whether that is adventure, practicality, family life etc. Their products are entirely different.

Bottom line: There are no clear-cut guidelines for choosing your brand’s colours. The concept of “it depends” can be frustrating, though it really is the truth. To develop a successful identity, companies/designers need to steer clear of a me-too identity, though they also need to delve into category associations to not stray outside of the spectrum, for fear of alientating potential customers. Overall, it’s about finding the balance between staying relevant, targeting your key audience, keeping in the context of what you’re working with, and staying distinct. It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand or product creates that matters.

COLOURS AND THEIR ASSOCIATIONS

RED: loveable, exciting, powerful
Examples of brands which use the colour Red: Jessica Draws Media (of course), Coka-Cola, Vodaphone, McDonald’s, Lego.

GREEN: Environment-friendly, tasteful, enviable
Examples of brands which use the colour Green: Android, Starbucks, Land Rover, Whatsapp, John Deere.

YELLOW: Happy, creative, competent.
Examples of brands which use the colour Yellow: Nikon, Ferrari, CAT, Ikea, McDonald’s.

PURPLE: Sophisticated, authoritative, knowledgeable
Examples of brands which use the colour Purple: Cadbury’s, Yahoo. Hallmark, FedEx, Premier Inn.

BLACK: Luxurious, elegant, powerful
Examples of brands which use the colour Black: Adidas, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Apple, Cartier.

BLUE: Masculine, competent, high-quality, corporate
Examples of brands which use the colour Blue: Ford, Samsung, Facebook, Volkswagen, Gap.

ORANGE: Happy, creative, successful, friendly.
Examples of brands which use the colour Orange: Fanta, Nickelodeon, Amazon, Firefox, Penguin.

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