Design Dictionary: The Power of Color in Branding
If you read my recent post about color theory, you will have an understanding of how color affects us both emotionally and physically. Now, I’m here to talk about the importance of color use in branding. I hope this post teaches you that there are connotations connected to every color and it’s important to know these before choosing your palette, or else you might run the risk of sending the wrong emotional message.
The three things that I think are the most important to the power of color in your branding are:
1) Choosing the right colors to send the proper messages and emotional responses from your customer.
2) Understanding how to use your color palette in the most effective and unique way.
2) Developing a brand standard manual that will define how to use your colors, your imagery, and how to carry it all across your brand consistently.
Color Usage Trends
As I did this exercise, I came to realize a trend about how different kinds of businesses use their colors across their brand. More corporate companies play it safe, reserving their brand colors for important areas like call outs, CTA’s (call to actions) and navigation. I then took a look at more creative websites, and noticed that there was an abundance of color saturation all over the page. In some cases with brands for children, you see more color than white. It is important to recognize your audience and what type of business you are running in order to decide the most effective and appropriate color usage.
Carrying Colors across your Brand
The second insight to this post is to recognize how a brand color is carried from one platform to another; From the website to a print ad, to a physical application and everything in between. Every piece of content, physical or digital; internal or outward facing should look like it all belongs to you. How do you accomplish this? You develop a brand style guide; the recipe book on how to use your logo, your color palette, and imagery in every situation: print, web, marketing, etc.
Red In Branding:
Because our eye notices red first over any color, it’s important to use red wisely. On websites, that often means in small amounts. You want red to act as a call-out to the most important areas of your website, specifically those that require an action from the user.
Bank of America’s colors are red and blue, a very patriotic color scheme that resonates with their name. The blue translates as trustworthy, and the red is action driven; It gets the heart pumping and ready to take action, which is definitely appropriate in this case. The red is located in areas where they want you to do something important like sign in, “learn more” about the primary offer on the page, read more about BoA if you are new, etc. The rest of the buttons are blue and take second priority.
This print ad is a great example of how bank of america uses its red logo as an arrow. They also use their red in one place to call out the main message: Get a Cowboys themed checks and debit card. Their ATM is another area where the red is used to stand out on the street and call attention to the ATM. This is a great example again of showing how red is used more in some areas than others and as long as you are consistent and have rules around it, you will have a stronger brand.
Pizza Hut chooses to saturate their website with warm rich reds in the background to give you a sense of warmth, and to make you hungry. The challenge with having a red background, red navigation, red logo AND red areas for call outs is that your eye doesn’t have much visual hierarchy. This is why they rely heavily on their secondary color green to signal the eye where to rest and take action.
Below is a Pizza Hut email design, and their pizza box. The email mirrors almost 100% what you expect on the homepage with the deep reds and yellows. The box, while it only uses one color, stands out as a pizza hut box from the iconic logo printed large all over the box.
Yellow In Branding
Yellow is the brightest of all colors and is often used as an attention grabber (like red). It’s associated with the sun, cheerfulness and intelligence.
Sprint’s homepage utilizes yellow in a very impactful way. Because the yellow is so bright and contrasts with the black, we know that this is the primary message and they want us to view this first. If you use yellow as a background color, you must make sure you only use it in one area that is the most important.Sprint does a great job in their inner pages using their yellow in a more subtle way. Instead of having large yellow boxes everywhere, they use yellow to lead the eye to important navigation spots.
Sprint carries over their yellow beautifully in their packaging and digital ads. The packaging uses just a small amount of yellow to create visual movement and emulate the yellow bars in the logo. Because the digital ad could be on any page, probably buried in an article or shoved to the side, sprint uses the vibrancy of the yellow background to attract attention and set itself apart from the rest of the page. This again is a great example of how a brand uses it’s color in different ways to fit the situation.
Attido is a global consulting agency and has a similar color palette: black and yellow. Notice the different way they use their colors. They use more black and yellow and very little white. This gives us a feeling of power and authority (think caution tape).
You can see a direct correlation between Attito’s website and the rest of their brand collateral including business cards, corporate stationery, and envelopes. Instead of a lot of black with little yellow, they reverse it, letting their yellow be the hero on their print collateral.
Attido Branding Design by Bond
Blue In Branding
In general blue is probably one of the most widely used colors for company branding in America. This is due to the calming and trustworthy connotations blue carries with it. See if you can start naming off how many banks, medical companies, social media, and other corporate companies that use blue in their branding. Or better yet, whip out your smart phone and count how many app icons are blue. Crazy right?
Citi Bank is another bank with blue and red as their primary colors, but unlike bank of america, they use blue more predominantly than red to establish that “trustworthy” calm feeling. The red arch over the word “citi” represents a red umbrella sheltering you from the rain. They use the blue to anchor you to the top where most of the important navigation is.
The Citibank blue carries over nicely on some print ads that feature large photographs with waterscapes and clear skies. The red umbrella is the literal icon for the red arch that is their logo. Also Citi bank carries the color over on a bright blue wall for their ATM machines to grab peoples attention.
Lacoix is a sparkling water company, that stands for simple, natural refreshment. They use blue’s and greens in their website and marketing to represent colors of nature and purity: water and earth.
Green In Branding
It’s common to see green in many companies relating to the environment, due to its heavy nature connotations. When we see green we think of life, vitality, and vegetation.
Bp (British Petroleum), an oiling company infamous for the 87 day oil spill in the gulf of mexico, uses greens and yellows in its branding so that people would associate their brand with clean, nature friendly energy. It is also a color of positive thought and synonymous with good. Of course they do make efforts for clean energy, but we all know that they are underneath all that, an oiling company and responsible for the devastation of entire marine eco systems and american health and jobs.
Now take a look at this landing page in red, a color of power and energy. Notice the emotional affect it has on you and how all of a sudden they come off in a more negative light. They seem less trustworthy almost don’t they? This is a great example of how color affects how people perceive a brand.
Here’s a great example of how BP really stretches their brand with playful use of color and shape in their corporate annual report. Developing that system of how you treat graphics, color, and type will keep things looking unified.
Orange In Branding
Orange is an energetic and playful color, often used in branding for food companies because oranges, reds, and yellows trigger hunger. It’s also a color associated with the fall, warmth, and change.
Fanta tailors their site to a younger audience by saturating the site with an orange bubbly color that emulates their orange soda. They pair this with playful characters and games to really come off as a fun brand.
This Fanta commercial carries over the saturated and energetic feeling you get from the brand well. It’s over the top and vibrant, which really speaks to their “playful” energetic vibe they are going for.
Tide uses their orange to call out important areas such as buttons, and links. This more subtle use of orange helps keep visual hierarchy and adds a little energy to an otherwise hum drum subject (fabric cleaner).
The Tide pen packaging carries over very nicely with the website. The pairing of a light and fluffy sky blue gives you that reliable feeling and compliments the primary brand color, orange to stand out on the shelves.
Pink In Branding:
Pink is typically associated with female products, such as dolls, makeup, fashion or female hygiene. It’s a softer color than bold, heart pumping masculine red and is sweeter than the purity of white.
The Barbie brand has changed over the years but one thing that has always remained constant is the brand pink. They might have shifted the hue slightly, but when people see a pink box, they think Barbie. That comes from something called “Brand Legacy”. When you’ve been in business and doing things the same way for so long, you have a brand legacy, a history of consistent branding that people identify with. The Barbie website targets young girls looking to design virtual Barbie dolls, which fits with this overly saturated use of pink in the background, the logo, the navigation and the imagery.
Juicy Couture is a great example on how to take a color and just by changing where and how you use it, you can elevate a brand and come off completely different. Juicy uses their pink as their secondary color, only calling out the most important messages. Using less pink gives it higher priority and more visual impact, and also makes for a more mature and sophisticated brand.
Tmobile is a great example of how a corporate company could use pink in a gender neutral way. The pink is paired with a lot of open white space and neutrals and is only used in headlines and links.
The evolution of T-mobiles Pink and Brand
1) The Catherine Zeta Jones Period
Do you remember when Catherine Zeta Jones was the spokes person for T-mobile? I do. She made t-mobile a sexy alternative to some of the other cut and dry corporate companies out there. If you notice, the T-mobile pink was a bit deeper, with a gradient that made everything look a little more dimensional.
2) The Catherine Zeta Jones Look A like Goes from Sweet to Edgy
After Catherine Zeta, they replaced her with this other girl who went from sweet and pretty, to a little bit edgy pretty fast. The color changed and they lost the antiquated gradient look.
3) The Edgy new Look
This new tv spot (airing now Feb 2014) paints T-mobile in a completely new light. The edgy punk black and white graphics paired up with a catchy british underground song creates this new energetic alternative vibe that goes along with the message “break up” with your phone provider. I think this was a great example of how great brands adapt their marketing and brand frequently without losing their legacy.
Purple In Branding
Purple is a deep sensual color often associated with luxury and royalty. It is a gender neutral color but it can feel more feminine depending on the shade and what you pair with it.
Cadbury uses purple to contrast the brown and make the chocolate seem rich and lush (worthy of royalty).
This print ad for cadbury carries over the rich feeling. The simple purple background allows the rich chocolate to shine.
Neutrals in Branding
Neutrals can technically be defined as blacks, whites, and greys but browns, beiges have often been added into that as a broader definition. You will see neutrals used more in high-end luxury brands because they give you an air of elegance, sophistication, and timelessness.
Apple has long had the iconic minimal white aesthetic but has recently begun to add more color into their site and branding. The use of red in call outs and blue for their call to action links still does not take away from the abundance of white. It feels clean and simple, going along with apple’s minimalist approach on their product designs.
Like their website, Apple’s packaging has always been very minimal.
Audi has a predominantly white website. Even though it has large images with color, everything still feels airy and clean. The whiteness allows for the product, their beautiful car photography take the forefront.
Chanel has always kept their brand timeless with a simple yet sophisticated black and white color scheme. The page looks airy and light but uses the contrast of the black to lead your eye. The beautiful product does all the heavy lifting for their brand.
Chanel’s packaging continues the very elegant and sophisticated balance of black, white, and gold.
Just as Chanel and Apple have very light and airy sites with heavy use of white, Mini Cooper uses black to contrast against their colorful cars. This gives these small cars a feeling of power and masculinity. The black background also makes things feel enclosed and keeps the focus on the car.
This is one ad of an entire campaign and it matches the simple branding perfectly.
All images used in this post can be found on my Pinboard
I hope that this has been a good introduction into how companies use their colors across their brand. If you are a first time business owner or are interested in learning about how to brand yourself, check out the Light Up Your Brand Workshop.