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How Colors Color Your Brand Image

June 26, 2012

The colors you use say a lot about your business.

It’s pop quiz time.

Name the colors associated with these top national brands: 1. IBM, 2. Pepsi, 3. Coca-Cola, 4. Best Buy, 5. Bank of America, 6. Hershey, 7. McDonalds, 8. ING Direct, 9. CVS Pharmacies, 10. Target, 11. Home Depot, 12. Lowes, 13. Apple, 14. T-Mobile, 15. UPS, 16. Verizon, 17. Tiffany, 18. Owens Corning, 19. Starbucks. (answers below)

How’d you do? Pretty easy, right? Of course it is. But why do we so quickly associate a particular color or combinations of colors with specific name brands?
It’s because these corporations and many others use a specific color or colors to help convey the essence, character, purpose and expectations associated with their brand.

Smart brand managers understand that the proper use of color can play a critical role in generating a positive, consistent brand image among consumers. Studies have shown that color plays a key role in memory recall; stimulating all the senses and immediately sending a mental message like no other communication method. In the typical sequence of visual perception, our brains read color just after perception of shape, and before reading any actual content. Color not only arouses an emotional response, it also stimulates brand association and heightens differentiation between brands – particularly those with parity products or services.

Picking the “right” color for your brand is important because it will appear on all of your promotional materials, your logo and product packaging. Your color should set you apart from competitors. It should also work well with your product category or industry and tie in to your brand promise (you do have a brand promise, don’t you?). Colors can mean different things to different audiences – depending on the culture, situation and industry.

Singing the Blue

For example, Tiffany & Company, one of the most successful luxury brands listed in the quiz above, adopted a distinctive shade of Robin’s Egg Blue for use on the firm’s boxes, catalogs, shopping bags, brochures and all of its advertising and promotional materials. The color was chosen soon after its founding back in 1837 and has since become so closely tied with Tiffany & Company that it is instantly and universally recognized as the trademark “Tiffany Blue.”
Tiffany Blue bags and boxes create a sense of elegance and exclusivity. According to company history, “As early as 1906, the New York Sun reported, Charles Tiffany has had one thing in stock that you cannot buy for as much money as you may offer; he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes. The rule of the establishment is ironclad, never to allow a box bearing the name of the firm to be taken out of the building except with an article which has been sold by them. The tradition of the famed Tiffany Blue Box has endured for one essential reason; its contents are unsurpassed in quality and design.” (

The Power of Color
Obviously, color can be a vital part of building a brand identity. That’s because colors have a significant impact on consumers’ emotional state. The many effects of colors include physiological, psychological and sociological responses.
Here are just a few examples of these effects according to the Psychology Newsletter.

  • Non-primary colors are more calming than primary colors, however;
  • Primary colors are preferred by children
  • Yellow evokes cheerfulness, while blue and black suppress appetites
  • Test takers score higher and weight lifters lift more while in rooms painted blue
  • Reds and oranges encourage diners to eat quickly and leave (it’s no wonder so many fast food outlets use these two colors throughout their branding!)
  • Black is associated with elegance, sophistication and mystery
  • Pink enhances the appetite and has been shown to calm prison inmates
  • White is associated with being cool, clean and fresh and so on.

The Brown Around Town

One of the hallmarks of a strong brand is that it delivers the same quality experience time after time, thus reinforcing its “brand promise.” Another tried and true way to enhance a brand promise is through the consistent and appropriate use of a brand’s color. A company that truly “delivers” on its brand promise through the use of color is the package delivery service, UPS. According to anecdotal references and numerous Wikipedia entries, one of UPS’s founders, Charlie Soderstrom, chose the color “Pullman Brown” for the company’s uniforms and delivery vehicles in 1916 because the Pullman rail cars of the time represented class, elegance and professionalism. By 1929, the company’s entire fleet was brown. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that dirt and grime is considerably less visible on brown uniforms and vehicles keeping carwash costs down considerably.
UPS registered two trademarks for the color brown in 1998 to prevent other companies from using “its” color for vehicles or clothing. Today, UPS has more than 88,000 brown package delivery cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles worldwide.

Color & Culture

Because colors have different connotations and evoke different responses depending on culture, region and industry, it’s always smart to test the color(s) you are considering using for your brand. For example:

Blue: In the U.S., the color blue is perceived as trustworthy, dependable and secure (which is why blue is used by many banks). However, In China, blue is used to suggest immortality and in Iran, immortality and spirituality.
Red: Red is seen throughout North America as being energetic, aggressive and provocative. In India, however, red indicates purity. In Nigeria, red denotes wealth and vitality. Whereas in South Africa, it is used to show mourning.
Yellow: While most societies associate the color yellow with the sun, not all link it with optimism, light and warmth. In Mexico, Ethiopia and Egypt, for example, yellow means mourning, not morning!

Testing, Testing
While you’re testing your color options, be sure to test for more practical differences including how accurately and consistently a color can be reproduced in various media, including print, on digital monitors, on small displays such as smart phones, etc. Does the color work well for signage? How does scale/size affect the reproduction of the color? What background colors will work with your color of choice? Can you reverse a mark in your color out of a black background, or does it only look good against white?
Most importantly, is your color distinctive? Does it differentiate you from your competitors? Is it appropriate for your type of business? And finally, will it facilitate recognition and recall of your brand?

When managed and communicated effectively, a company’s brand has great power. Proper use of a color can increase the recognition of – and loyalty to – any given brand by its customers for generation after generation.

And that can lead to much more of everyone’s favorite color; green.

Answers to color/brand quiz: 1. Blue or b/w Stripes 2. Red, White & Blue, 3. Red, 4. Blue & Yellow, 5. Blue & Red, 6. Brown, 7. Yellow & Red, 8. Orange, 9. Red, 10. Red, 11. Orange, 12. Blue, 13. White, 14. Pink, 15. Brown, 16. Red, 17. Robin’s Egg Blue, 18. Pink, 19. Green.

– By Tom Traynor

About The Brand Establishment

The Brand Establishment perfected the first contemporary brand development process specifically for small to mid-sized advertisers more than two decades ago. These tools and procedures have been utilized by companies in virtually every business sector – hundreds of times.