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October 29, 2010

It’s enough to make one see red

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

It’s enough to make one see red

Those who have met the Marketing Fundamentalist know that his signature colour is red. I am often asked if red is my favourite colour (which it is) but now I can reveal why I chose it as my icon: Research recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (see Daily Mail Online article: shows that women find men photographed in red shirts or against red backgrounds “more attractive and desirable” and they are seen as having higher social status. I guess I’ll hang onto those red ties for another season (wife permitting).

Colour has a significant impact on the visual arts, of which most advertising is of course an applied form. So the fundamental question is, how much do we as marketers know about colour and how much influence it might have on the consumers of our communication efforts? More importantly how often do we let personal preferences overshadow a more objective approach to colour?

We all know Pantone, which started life in the fifties as a commercial printing company, before becoming famous for its proprietary Colour Matching System. So these days it is easy enough to define and specify a certain colour and try and make it our brands’ own. Just ask Cadbury, who have been vigorous in protecting ‘Cadbury purple’ (Pantone 2685C) and of course closer to home the ‘Red Bank’, ‘Yellow Cell Phone Company’ and ‘Green Assurer’.

Colours are imbued with different meanings and associations: ( however we need to ensure that we don’t inadvertently build brand associations with colours with negative connotation in different cultures. While black is often associated with mourning in ‘Western culture’ for instance, other cultures associate a whole range of colours with this emotion.

Colours are clearly competitive as well. Given that all your competitors have access to the same data on colour meanings and associations, there is too often overlap in corporate colours. A good brand design agency will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the spectrum if colours already used in a sector before recommending any change to a corporate identity.

Colours are also, in my view, strongly associated with a specific generation. As a result, they age. Just think back to the sixties and Peter Max’s cosmic 60’s posters. Or perhaps for most of us, think of the return of pastels in the nineties. If you would like to know what colours are going to be hot next year, check out the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) Summer 2011 tend forecast at

Finally, colours have political associations. Blue (especially dark blue) is apparently associated with conservative parties worldwide, emanating from their namesake in the UK. “Green” has moved well beyond an association to being the definition of Green, er environmental parties across the world. Anti government protesters in Thailand are likewise defined by their “Red Shirts”.

So the point is that as professional marketers we need to be objective in the colour choices we make for our brands. It really doesn’t matter whether you like the colour. Rather, we should consider objectively, what does it mean to the target market? Is it differentiating? Can it be protected? And finally it does it have any unintended consequences?


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