For marketers, a flash of colour can be more potent than the brand
name itself. Green spells Harrods, easyJet orange and Virgin red have
been extended across their brand extensions, while Coca-Cola embodies
the red-white combination.
Colours derive their effect through lifelong associations with
particular sectors. Washing powders and cleaning products tend to be
green or blue, while red and yellow are popular in the food sector.
Mobile phone company Orange has achieved success in the communications
sector with the colour as brand approach. It is notable because blues
and greys dominate the sector, and because orange denotes energy and
Newer financial institutions such as First Direct and Egg, have also
broken free of the standard colour shackles which are associated with
their sector - grey - to appear bright and modern.
But while some of the most recognisable and successful brands have a
strong affinity with a particular colour, to what degree must colour be
built into the design process?
When deciding on a colour, it’s vital to look for clashes with other
brands in the same category. The colour also has to be relevant to the
brand. Risk-taking in such decisions must be planned.
In a move which flew in the face of category convention, Bachelors used
blue for its soup, noodles and pasta product packaging. ’Blue is a cold
colour, but we have made a distinct blue synonymous with Bachelors,’
says David Rivett, chief executive of Design Bridge. ’Colour-blocking in
supermarkets is important - a wall of blue is powerful.’
But there’s always a risk involved in adopting a revolutionary approach
toward colour. ’Flouting convention is certainly worth considering, but
we’d be foolish to ignore the weight of history behind these colours,’
says Shaughn McGurk, BGA senior designer.
’Tango managed to break the rules successfully by using an
’unrefreshing’ colour - black. It wanted to be seen as irreverent, but
it takes a lot of time, investment and support to follow that kind of
strategy,’ says Andy Wilson, brand strategist at corporate branding
consultancy, Corporate Edge.
Under the 1994 Trademarks Act, companies can register a colour for use
in a particular sector with the Register of Trademarks. However, this
requires significant market penetration, as the company must prove the
colour is distinctive in relation to certain goods and services.
Orange has registered its colour, as has BP for the combination of
yellow and green on forecourt services. ’The harmonisation and ownership
of a colour is taken much more seriously these days,’ says Rivett.
’First Direct, with its monochrome approach, is the best example of that
in the banking sector - it has a holistic view of the brand.’
Corporate Edge recently undertook a consumer study to gauge the effect
of colour alone. Blue and black were found to be associated with
authority and professionalism, but were also seen as clinical. Yellow
was seen as indicative of food products, while red was thought to
accentuate the impact of a design, without denoting value in itself.
Primary colours have traditionally led the way in branding. One reason
is that these colours are much easier to produce across a variety of
media - an important consideration in the worldwide marketplace, as
printing technology varies across continents.
These colours also ’go’ with almost everything. ’Blue is a stable
colour, which acts as an aesthetically beautiful foil,’ says McGurk. ’If
khaki was the base, you would have to work harder.’
For Orange, the colour embodies the firm’s identity and extends across
all its communications. ’If we were called ’Blue’ and our logo was a
blue square, we would be a different company - the choice of the name is
integral,’ says Rob Furness, head of Orange brand marketing.
’In building an identity, and evolving and moving forward, it’s not just
about the colour - you can own a whole look and feel,’ he adds.
Colmans, which has been in existence for 150 years, has developed a
feeling of ’warmth’ and being ’established’ around its products through
its use of colour. Its vivid yellow packaging is instantly recognisable
and is deployed across a wide range of sauces. ’Repetition plays an
important part in helping people associate colours with brands,’
As consumers’ shopping habits change, extending the brand into new media
with a degree of accuracy will be the challenge facing companies in the
In establishing an online presence, colour will become a key issue for
products seeking a consistent image. But while it is vital that brand
colouring can extend into this field with the same level of accuracy
that exists in print reproduction, with a palette of 256 colours, the
internet can be fairly limiting if you have registered a colour and need
an exact reproduction.
Corporate Edge’s Wilson describes brand stand-out on the high street as
’the November afternoon test’ - some colours simply blend into the
concrete jungle, while others catch the attention. The same criteria
will apply to brands on the web and digital television. Standing out in
these media may just involve breaking the colour-association norm to a