The Colour of Marketing

November 21, 2020

This article doesn’t really fit anywhere. I’ve had this article in my head for the past number of weeks and have been thinking about good examples that illustrate my opinion. Specifically, what a powerful branding device colour and balances or relativities of colours can be. To illustrate the point that I’m going to try to make I will open up with a question:

Have a look at the image of just two simple block colours below and tell me what brand I’m talking about?

I assume that you’ve guessed it’s Duracell, right? It’s amazing that two colours used in a simple 1:2 ratio beside each other with no element of design in them (swirls, swooshes and what not) can be instantly recognised by almost everyone as a brand. This is probably the best example that I could find to illustrate the point. Namely how powerful unique colour schemes applied consistently over time can be for a brand. Why does the Duracell example work so well? A number of reasons I suppose.

  • First and foremost, the colours and their exact application are inherent in the packaging and delivery of Duracell’s product. I say packaging and delivery as technically their actual product is portable energy / electricity / power.
  • Secondly the ratio in applying the colours. For example, if those ratios were flipped (see below) would people instantly recognise them? Perhaps not, it looks more like it should be a fake tan brand.
  • Thirdly, the choice of a non-primary colour juxtaposed against very simple black is a unique enough colour combination. E.g. it’s not like red and blue or green and yellow.
  • Next, like all good design and all great branding ideas, the creative inspiration for it is the original incarnation of its form, the battery: i.e. the bronze colour is actually meant to represent the copper top of the original versions of batteries.
  • And finally, it has been applied consistently over time by Unilever since the brand’s introduction to the market place in the late 1960′s.

I guess Duracell is lucky in that it colour palette comes so directly from its actual product. Other brands aren’t so lucky: e.g. water brands, dairy brands etc… So what do you do when you don’t have the option of using the colours of your physical product? Well, I think the best examples choose something (ideally unique) and apply it religiously and consistently over time to all elements of their mix. Probably the best example of all in this regards is Cadbury’s. A quick Google Image search of the term Cadbury will hit you with a sea of purple. As with Duracell, their zealous adherence to their unique visual palette and consistent application of it over time has allowed them to use this as an umbrella brand across their entire portfolio. In essence the visual strength of the main Cadbury brand has acted as a branding clue between previously unrelated products.

Cadbury are so protective of their purple and so well known for the usage of it they have successfully copyrighted its usage. I wonder if their planning on suing Marie in “Breaking Bad” for her regular infringement? Their consistence in its application is unbelievable: it first introduced the colour purple to their packaging in 1915, nearly a century ago. It’s amazing to think that in spite of all the internal and external events that have effected Cadbury’s in that period (staff turnover, ownership change) that they have stuck with the same colours.

Researching all this stuff on Duracell and Cadbury’s lead me down this whole other rabbit hole on the psychological importance of colours in branding and what certain colours meant at a subconscious level to people, which was not the original reason I started researching this topic. Branding Strategy Insider had an interesting article on psychological associations people have with particular colours. However, I think this colour research in isolation is fine, but when you start to apply it to long established brands that’s when you hit a problem. You can’t ask a consumer for their opinion about the colour Green if the Green in question is displayed in a Starbuck’s logo. Quite rightly, the consumer can’t disassociate the two concepts and whatever opinion they give about Green is likely to be coloured by their opinions on Starbuck’s. For example, their research and the research of cymbolism.com both suggest that the colour Red means the following to consumers: excitement, strength, sex, passion, speed, danger. However from a branding point of view no brand (to my mind) is more associated with the colour Red than Coca-Cola. And as one of the world’s leading family brands ideas like sex, passion, speed and danger are not ones that I would readily associate with it. In fact when I read either of those pieces of research, particularly the symbolism.com deck, it became more apparent that the colour choices of brands and what psychological meaning was attached to them were actually rather irrelevant. A snapshot of the chart beside this paragraph shows some of the associations that people make with certain colours that bear no relation to the actual brands that use those colours.

Even though it’s probably only taken you a few minutes to read this blog post, it’s actually taken me a few weeks to write it. Not to say that it hasn’t been interesting to do: I think I’ve learned some new things about branding and colour palettes that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across. And the search and quest for knowledge and to better myself as a marketeer is one of the reasons that I originally started this blog. So what’s the ultimate take out from this rant? I suppose it’s actually quite basic Marketing 101: where possible try and do things in a unique fashion. But whatever you do, be consistent.