Sunday, 13 January 2013

What colour is your company?

Colour is all around us. It is one of the first things we notice about most things we see and it can be combined in ways to please, disgust and fascinate us. It is also heavily used by organisations to get themselves noticed and create the ‘right’ impression. Market researchers have had a field day identifying the colours and the likely effect they have upon us.

Have you noticed that most fast food restaurants are decorated with bright reds and oranges (Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC)? It's no accident that these colours show up so frequently. Marketing companies long maintain that reds and oranges encourage diners to eat quickly and leave, and that's exactly what fast food outlets want you to do. The idea is that warm colours stimulate the desire to eat and you don't linger for too long.

Fifty Shades of Grey aside, it's also no accident that you see a lot of reds and blacks in how adult material is advertised or packaged. These colours are thought to have sexual connotations. These colour schemes are also used in lingerie, adult shop branding and appear on many greeting cards (check out the Valentines ranges).

However, the effects of colour differ among different cultures, so the attitudes and preferences vary. For example, white is the colour of death in Chinese culture, but purple represents death in Brazil. Yellow is sacred to the Chinese, but signifies sadness in Greece and jealousy in France. In North America, green is typically associated with jealousy. People from tropical countries respond most favourably to warm colours; people from northern climates prefer the cooler colours. You will have seen some of this in HSBC ads where they claim to ‘think global but act local’. If you are designing a web site to attract Chinese tourists, less of the white and more of the yellow it seems.

Market researchers have also determined that colour affects shopping habits. You can see this by looking at the promotional material and web sites belonging to companies with marketing budgets that allow for extensive research into what sells best. Have a look at the websites of Jaguar, Gucci, Rolex. There's a common predominance of black or dark green (sophistication) and silver/dark grey (prestige). These companies market to people with high incomes who view themselves as sophisticated and look for a prestigious vehicle or accessory. You will notice this black / silver combination on newspaper ads for expensive high status luxuries such as jewellery and accessories. The more up market credit cards aimed at a similar market segment are also black or silver/grey.

Leslie Harrington, from The Colour Association marketing company suggests color is not an artistic choice or preference, but a grounded business decision.  Harrington points out the following example. When Volkswagen came out with the new Beetle some years ago, most of the billboards pictured a neon green Beetle, which was a car color few people had seen before. However, that color was authentic to the ideas VW was trying to communicate: a new and fresh take on an old concept. "It really resonated with the customer," she says. "It allowed VW to communicate in the ad what they were all about, even though most customers bought the usual blue or red."

This example also demonstrates another element of color psychology, called the "pink purse syndrome," basically, you put a pink purse in the window to get customers to come into the shop where they buy the black one.

Take another area many of us are familiar with, Social Media. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all use different shades of blue in their logos. Scientists at the University of British Columbia led by Ravi Mehta have found that the colour blue makes us feel more creative and receptive to ideas. One scientist remarked that blue “encourages motivation” and that people think of more creative solutions to problems. Blue was associated with intellect and trustworthiness, making it an ideal colour for innovative communication.

Take a second look and you will notice these colour schemes all around you, for those among us who are colour blind, that’s another story. Marketing and psychology guys are still working on that. It’s a grey area.

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