A while ago I stumbled across a rant against pink. It was written by a mother who felt she was losing the battle against the tides of rosy cuteness bombarding her daughter. Turns out it was not always so. In the good old days, pink was for boys and blue was for girls. A quick glance at popular culture of the time evidences that blue was indeed once the visual shorthand for female innocence, beauty or virtue.
I was reminded of this in a recent workshop, when the subject of colour psychology came up. I’m referring of course to the ‘science’ (I use the term loosely) of decoding the associations and emotions that we instinctively attach to particular colours. So, yellow is warm, happy and cheery; red suggests excitement, ambition and youth and blue denotes dependability, quality and trust.
Colour psychology has been used by brands and corporations for decades to communicate something about the service or product on offer in an implicit and subconscious way. But there’s a real danger with taking colour theory at face value. For a start, the way we all make decisions about brands is much more complex than one based entirely on colour (context and culture play big roles for instance). More crucially, the more a brand adopts the rules of a category, by definition the less distinctive it becomes. So in theory, blue says all the right things about you if you’re a technology brand, but it says all the right things about every other technology brand too. Which is why situations like this are played out in every category from technology to antiperspirant:
Braver brands acknowledge the colour codes of their category and reject them – what they lose in implicit associations they gain in brand distinctiveness. What, for instance, does a synthetic, bright ‘value’ yellow, used without any depth or finesse, have to do with luxury? Absolutely nothing, which is why it’s so brilliant.
So one way of building a unique brand identity is to recognise broad cultural associations, but reject them in favour of building brand associations that only you can own. Or, if you’re a certain toy with implausible curves and a penchant for pink, change those cultural associations wholesale (blue is so 1940s) and own them entirely.
By Katie Ewer, strategic planner, jkr Singapore