What the colour of your brand says about you (behind your back)

It was quite a few year ago now when I first heard the anecdote involving the university philosophy professor who asks his class to describe the colour yellow. The story goes that the class spent the next hour describing yellow in relation to things that are yellow (“it’s the colour of a sunflower…”, etc) until one student stood up and exclaimed “yellow is just yellow.” This, it would seem, is the correct answer as the professor congratulated and dismissed the class.

When I first heard this story I remember being slightly impressed at how simply the question and answer (or lack of it) had been raised about how to we go about describe the sensory…

…but what if I (and the professor) were wrong?

There’s more to colours than meets the eye.

As we’ve been looking at yellow up until now I agree that it would be silly of us to move away. Our professor argued that a colour just is, however why is it that colours can affect our moods in such radical ways and, in a marketing sense, the way our brands are perceived.

In 2003 a charity in the UK – The Dogs Trust – took on a major brand overhaul. The result was dramatic and it has enabled them to go from strength to strength, becoming one of the largest animal welfare charities in GB (arguably the biggest canine charity). However, I digress. One of the key elements of their new brand identity was the colour yellow; a very specifically chosen colour yellow (with it’s own Hex and RGB codes I’m sure) that reflected a lot of how the organization wanted to be perceived.

Psycological studies have shown that yellow grabs our attention and increases concentration more than any other colour. Whilst it is also known to cause people to loose their tempers (babies are more likely to cry in a yellow room), it also makes people feel more optimistic.

So what did this mean to The Dogs Trust?

The third sector is crammed with animal welfare charities in the UK – all relying on public donations to survive. By selecting a colour that grabs the attention of the general public, and then increases their concentration, The Dogs Trust were able to effectively make themselves heard amongst other, more well established competitors.

Additionally, the ‘optimistic effect’ that yellow has, could prove to be very useful when persuading members of the public that these animals could have a happy future.Furthermore, I’m sure the vibrancy and warmth this colour choice has provided the brand has helped engage a far younger audience that before – ensuring longevity.

There are two interesting side notes to this. Firstly, shortly after The Dogs Trust re-branded themselves The Cats Protection League also undertook a re-branding exercise which, funnily-enough saw them adopt the same colour yellow (or near enough) as part of their corporate identity. Secondly (and maybe more importantly) it is interesting to note that a very similar colour yellow has been used by the nations leading dog food – ‘Pedigree’ – for over 50 years, an association I’m sure was less than coincidental for The Dogs Trust.

The psychology of colours.

So, is yellow just yellow? It would seem that this is not the case – yellow is attention grabbing, aggravating and optimistic… as well as just yellow. Rather than these being emotional responses to the colours – subjective opinions of the observer – studies have proven that these reactions are true almost entirely across the board.

Another (quite well documented) case of this comes in the form of Coca Cola v Pepsi. It’s been one of the great questions of our generation – “Can you taste the difference?” The answer it would seem is both yes and, more accurately, no.

In taste-tests the world over people get it right, on average, 50% of the time… and therefore they get it wrong equally as much. The truth is we just can’t taste the difference – however much we think we can! However a similar taste-test that recently took place at an American university revealed some interesting correlations between the taste of Coca Cola (and Pepsi) and it’s branding.

Participants were attached to electrodes that monitored brain activity whilst they sampled the drinks and were exposed to different elements of the branding. When they were shown the colour red activity in the brain spiked – compared to when they were exposed to Pepsi’s blue. Additionally, when asked to guess which of the two brands they were drinking participants were more likely to choose Coca Cola when in a predominantly red environment.

This all boils down to the simple fact that Cola tastes red. Crazy, no?

Well, actually no – this is, in fact, a very common and scientifically explained trait known as synaesthesia – where taste (but more commonly sound) is experienced, in some extreme cases literally visually, as a colour. Whilst there is evidence to suggest we all have it to a certain extent (as the Coca Cola experiment shows), some famous examples of sufferers include Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and (supposedly) more recently Lady Gaga. Gerchwin is another famous example who supposedly would ask of his orchestra to “Make it more blue!”

Skip to the end…

Whilst it may seem a little like I have gone off point slightly all this comes back around to the importance of colour for your brand. In the case of Coca Cola vs Pepsi it would appear Coca Cola will always win because the flavour of their drink and the colour of their cans taste the same. The Dogs Trust (and Cats Protection League) have seen massive growth due to the implementation of attention grabbing and optimistic yellow.

There’s obviously a lot to be said about the choice of colour (a lot more than I have written here). The main message I believe there is to be taken from all this is that it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. The colour of your brand, website, application (or pretty much anything) can dictate how it is perceived by others and subconsciously associate you with their emotional responses.

I’ll leave you with these final examples of physical reactions the body has to simply seeing a colour: yellow can increase motabilism, people lift higher weights in blue gyms and pink makes people feel tired. In short… yellow is more than just yellow!