The influence of colour in brand identity

Written by Laura Hussey, partner and creative director at London-based SomeOne.

It’s drizzly, it’s grey, everyone is wearing black and I’m a Celebrity is back on the telly tempting me with the lush green Australian rainforest and it’s vast, bright blue skies. I’m sick of the dullness of winter. I need some colour.

Union Jewellery boxes
Union Jewellery packaging by Red Design

My desire for colour isn’t only at this time of year either, I crave it all year round — in fact I’d go so far as to say I draw energy from it.

Brands can benefit from our desire for colour, too. It can help keep conversations intriguing, energetic and rewarding.

A study (broken link removed, 2014) of the world’s top 100 brands (defined by brand value) saw 95% use only one or two colours. 33% of those top brands would like to think they own the colour blue, and 29% think red is their colour. It suddenly becomes irrelevant, it’s what you do with it that counts. Why be limited?

Take a look at how Oxfam have rebranded with a reinvigorated palette of colours and the mantra ‘provocative optimism’. The charity has to deal with famine and world disasters and yet still has to attract people to be inspired to give money. The most immediate way to do this is through their brand colours. The vibrant colours help to reinforce Oxfam’s positive attitude towards fundraising and boost their rallying cry, making people feel positive about taking part and able to help affect change.

Oxfam identity by Wolff Olins

Another brand that recognises the power of colour is The Guardian, whose use of a spectrum of colours to illustrate it’s all-encompassing news. Multiple colours speak of choice, variety and diversity. Think Google, NBC, eBay, or MSN to name but a few that use more than two colours to express their breadth.

Google data center pipes
Google data center pipes

We chose a similar approach when we created the Brand World for The Halcyon — an exciting development highlighting the best of British art, retail, design, music, exhibitions, gallery and food. The colours used within the brand and environment were derived from, and act as a subtle nod towards the diverse colour palette used during Britain’s great creative periods of the past — our Halcyon days, mixed with those we see around us today.

The Halcyon identity by SomeOne

Colours can reflect the emotional outlook of a culture and so it’s no coincidence that as we emerge from the UK’s longest, deepest postwar recession we see a change in colour trends. We want to feel happy and secure, and that’s why we gravitate towards colours that bring about more positive emotions. Think of the striking pink Olympic signage that directed people around London and how happy and talkative people in the city suddenly seemed to be. Even many normally surly locals engaged in casual conversation. The colour got a good showing on many volunteers, too. Why? it stands out, it’s appealing. The result? A capital city and thousands of people adorned with a surprisingly bright and appealing shade.

London Olympics signage
Image: Surface Architects

The Dutch artists Haas & Hahn saw this potential when they lived and worked in some of the world’s most violent places. It is unusual to have to ask permission of a drug lord before you can start painting, but in Vila Cruzeiro – generally considered one of Rio’s most dangerous favelas – this is what they had to do. Not just to beautify, but also to create a dialogue with their surroundings. After several successful projects, the image of a square painted in a design of radiating colours yielded worldwide fame and transformed Rio into ‘one of the world’s 10 most colourful places’. It stands out.

Favela painting by Haas & Hahn

Colour doesn’t just benefit worthy causes though — you only need to look at Jonathan Ive’s colour choices for the new iOS 7, or the sweet shop choice of iPhone 5C. More than any iPhone in history, the iPhone 5C is all about colour and personality. Some say Ive was inspired by the well-regarded graphic designer of the late 20th century, Mitsuo Katsui whose designs are known for vibrant use of colours in motion, often placed within wide, single-colour blank spaces. Katsui’s abstract forms also often use transparencies to highlight contrast effects.

iPhone 5C colours
Photo via iPhone Hacks

Similarly, for the launch of Tesco’s first tablet – the Hudl, we wanted to inject warmth into a category that can often be overly technical and unfriendly.

Hudl colours

‘Be more Colourful’ doesn’t have to simply mean ‘use lots of bright colours’ either. A brand can behave more colourfully through their actions, their tone of voice or their inventions. Innocent Drinks has grown from a three-person outfit to a multimillion pound business, a large part of the company’s success can be attributed to the brand’s tone of voice. It has managed to stand out in a saturated drinks market by being friendly and engaging, sometimes even cheeky but always distinctive. It has managed to elevate the brand way above it’s competitors.

Innocent Drinks colours

Then you have Marmite — a yeast-based spread. Nothing very sexy or colourful about that and yet by being brave enough to recognise their product is hated as much as it is loved it has elevated it to much more than a savoury spread. It’s ‘Love/Hate’ campaign has earned them many fans and its originality means it’s now used to mean anything which strongly divides opinion. The strength of the brand means it can now expand into other areas, even fashion — ‘Love Marmite, Hate Jams’ as seen on many a trendy fixie rider weaving through traffic.

Love Marmite, Hate Jams
Road cycling jersey available from Foska.com

Brands want fame and monopoly and to do that they must stand out and appeal to human beings, so they need to be more optimistic – more colourful. Who wants 50 shades of grey when you’ve got the choice of the rainbow?

Laura Hussey is partner and creative director at SomeOne. Follow Laura on Twitter.

3 responses

  1. I never thought about color to this depth of being such a big influence in showing a company influence in brand identity. I will admit when I see a company that is not afraid of color I am more excited when I see their brand.

  2. Color IS brand identity.

    Sure you can change it up, but when it gets to the flower and water of design it all comes back to the basics. Color/design VS space.

    Often times the design gets taken away from its original idea. Away from the first inspiration where we said, “I think this may just be the one!” Now the project has metamorphisized and we lose it all. We love to stick with our first intention and let it grow into what ever it was meant to become.

  3. I hope to see more companies choosing wider palette of colors. I am so tired of businesses choosing blue/gray color as the only “serious” option.

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