When you come to think about it, colour is one of the most effective tools that package designers and marketers have at their disposal, and yet it is probably one of the most overlooked. Knowing that colour can be used to identify and position a brand, and that it can be used to create an emotive response in a consumer’s mind, informing, reassuring and creating desire, you wonder why we just don’t pay enough attention to the communicative powers of colour!
Colour is so important because it’s such a strong part of the way that we see our world. We are born with the ability to see colours, and in some cases we are able to understand their meaning without anybody telling us why? Compare this to our other forms of communication, speaking, reading and writing, in order to understand these communication tools we need to be initially taught by our parents and others and continually need to build up our knowledge for the rest our lives… but colour… well colour speaks to us on another level, the level of our sub-conscious minds. Red indicating danger and exciting our senses, greens expressing freshness, blues offering a calming effect or pastels giving us a feeling of softness…
So fundamental is our ability to recognise and understand colour that we even find the need to use it as part of the way we describe the things around us: We say we are “green with envy”, or we say that things are clearer in “Black and White”, sometimes we “get the Blues” and when we are angry we say that we “see Red!” This is because colour is linked to our primeval instincts, and our need to recognise safety, danger, happiness, sadness etc… so using colour to describe what we want to express, makes our verbal description clearer, creating an emotional response in the listeners mind.
Clearly then, colour is an essential communication tool that no designer or marketer can afford to ignore. It makes sense, particularly if you are into creating a product branding or packaging. An understanding of the language of colour is fundamental to making communication clearer and in helping to create success, by extracting the desired emotional response from your target audience, towards your brand.
Making colour work for you:
Once you have understood the power of colour, you can use it to make your brand more effective on shelf, here are some of the great ways colour can be used to effect to position your product and to achieve ownability and stand out:
Depending on the intensity, tone or combination, most colours can be used effectively to position a brand, (masculine or feminine, soft or strong, luxury or mainstream, etc…), therefore, understanding the properties and interpretations of each colour will allow you to choose the correct colour (or mix), that best expresses your desired positioning – (see; Glossary of colour interpretations – below).
Owning a colour:
A brand that adopts a colour can never really “own” it, as colour in nearly impossible to register on its own, but with the careful use of proprietary lettering, images and structure, the brand can own a total look which, by association, includes the colour palette. For example Heineken, Nivea, Coca-Cola etc…
Using colour to inform:
Colour can be used to express brand or product characteristics, strong colours suggesting seriousness and stability, lighter colours expressing delicacy and softness, multi-colours suggesting playfulness and youth etc…
Using colour to explain product variants:
Larger ranges can become confusing if colour is not used effectively to segregate the offer, this is where colour can help consumers understand a range, be it divided by flavour, products or any other segmentation. Colour change can be total between one pack and another, if the variant communication is the most important, or can be just a percentage of a pack, if consistent branding is desired.
Achieving stand out with colour:
Sometimes it will be necessary to follow the colour norms of a product category as it is understood by consumers. Here finding a new mix may help make your brand individual and different. Where possible, it’s always good to make a colour analysis of the store shelf, there may just be an opportunity to introduce a colour that is new to the category, helping to achieve real stand out.
Colour can be used to create a “block” effect on-shelf, where a dominant colour is used across all products in a range, in this way a brand can be instantly recognisable on shelf, even at a distance. Good examples of brand blocking are Ariel, Barilla, Fructis etc…
The world of colour is a world of deep emotional significance to us all, I believe it’s time to re-assess the way we think of colour and to see it as one of our essential tools, allowing us to communicate with consumers on a sub-conscious level by offering a non-verbal communication platform, that helps build an immediate understanding of a brands positioning.
One of our most interesting colours, we attribute to black many meanings; authority, power, submission, secrecy and even death. So on the one hand it can be sombre and on the other it can be seen to be chic. Priests, teachers and even saucy chamber-maids wear black as do also witches and vampires. In most films it’s often the Black-Knight or the one wearing black, who is cast as the villain.
If you are looking to give your product authority and a qualitative look, look to black, just like Godiva, Jack Daniels, Guinness, Coke Burn, Calvin Klein and many other premium products.
Mostly associated to innocence, purity, cleanliness, sterility and peace, white’s meaning (like black), can be varied and different across cultures, in the West brides and angels wear white, whilst in the East it’s the colour of mourning. The dove of peace is white, and in films, the good-guy is dressed in white, and we say, the White-Knight will come to the rescue.
Products we use intimately or put on our skin are often predominantly packaged in white, like Dove, or La Prairie. The brand Innocent also uses white to underline its purity and simplicity.
It was the English physicist, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who worked out that white light could be broken into the colours of the rainbow, by passing it through a prism. Today, we describe the main colours of the rainbow (Red, Yellow and Blue), as primary colours, and the colours achieved by mixing the primary colours (Orange, Green and Violet), we call secondary colours, and each have their own values and meanings:
Representing passion, fire, love, danger and anger, red is an emotionally intense colour, which can raise blood pressure and make breathing faster. In this way, red stimulates the need act faster and is a favourite colour for fast food outlets. Red is also contradictory, it is the colour of the heart, love and also the colour of the Devil whereas, in other cultures it has different meanings. Red is the colour of socialism, red denotes warning and in China, red is the colour of prosperity and is seen to bring good luck.
Red helps brands bring attention to themselves, it shows confidence, youth and energy. Ferrari, Coca-Cola, Virgin, Cote D’Or, Lays and Red Bull all use red to great effect in this way.
The sun, the Earth’s giver of life, is yellow, and therefore it’s not surprising that the colour that represents positive energy, creation, it’s optimistic and cheerful, but it has been known to increase the heart rate and raise body temperature. It can represent hope, like tying a yellow ribbon on a tree in the hope that someone comes home safely, or it can be alternatively be used to signify cowardice.
Too much yellow can be overpowering in packaging, so brands often use yellow in association with other colours to create visual stimulation, a feeling of energy and stand out. Duracell combines yellow with black to suggest power, Weetabix, a breakfast cereal, helps get your day started with simulating yellow, Lipton Tea is positioned as a positive drink and uses yellow, successfully combined with associations of the sun, to suggest positivity adding green leaves to suggest naturalness.
The sea and the sky are blue, colouring our world blue when seen from space. Blue is peaceful, calm, tranquil, meditative it causes the body to produce calming chemicals. In it’s darker shades it suggests stability and trust, in lighter shades it’s suggests coolness and freshness, for example, in Feng Shui blue is associated with healing, refreshing calmness and serenity.
On it’s own blue can sometimes be too calming for brands, so we often see the colour mixed with other tones. Mix blue with white (Nivea), for purity and trust, with yellow (Chiquita), for excitement and gaiety, with red (Citibank), to convey trust with energy.
Being a secondary colour, orange takes on qualities of its two primary components, red and yellow. Orange is therefore seen, as warm, and sociable, but also vibrant, energetic and stimulating. In this way orange signifies change, the oranges of autumn leaves tell us summer is changing to winter and who can fail to feel emotional as the setting sun marks the change between the positive vibrant day with the approaching warm glow of a restful evening.
In branding pure orange is used to get attention in a positive way and is often used for products promoting positive energy like Fanta. In Ukraine orange was associated with change becoming the symbol of the “Orange Revolution”. Tropicana nearly lost its vibrant energy when it proposed to change the well-known orange pack to a pale yellow version, but consumers soon pointed out the mistake and the old pack was quickly re-instated.
Nature expresses itself with green, it says abundance and life, green is reassuring expressing fertility, calm and relaxation. The green shoots of spring offer promise renewal and things to come. Just as the leaves change their colour as the season moves on, the lighter greens of spring (with a more yellow influence), signal positivity, hope and freshness, whilst darker greens of summer (with a more blue influence), offer stability, calm and balance.
When brands want to show their closeness to nature and naturalness, green will dominate, like Activa from Danone or Green Giant, also today, all things ECO tend to be green. When brands want to emphasise freshness, a lighter green will be used in combination with other natural colours, like blue or orange, as can be seen, for example, with Garnier’s Fructis brand.
In antiquity, purple was one of the most expensive colours to produce, which explains why purple has always been associated with royalty, authority, rank and money. In both it’s forms, violet (leaning more towards red), and Purple (leaning more towards blue), it is both feminine and romantic combining the power of red with the calming effect of blue.
Brands using purple take on some of the quality characteristics of the colour. Cadbury’s or Milka chocolate, Taillefine yoghurt, or the violet of Häagen Dazs Ice Cream.
Gold is often used to suggest luxury, quality and sophistication, but in packaging design shiny gold is not helpful on shelf, as it tends to create many reflections and dark areas that can make a brand un-readable. Far better to illustrate gold effects or use matt gold areas.
Silver can suggest both quality and purity, it is cooler (less warm), than gold, but like gold is better used in matt form to avoid dark shadows. Used as a background colour it can be very effective especially with strong brand communication over printed in strong matt colours.
Rowland Heming © 2010/2014
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