Well, it’s only visible when the sun shines or the light’s on…outside, at night, everything fades to grey and we see very little or no colour at all – except from street lights the varying colours of which change our perception of a colour markedly. There may be some light from a full, silvery moon…but that’s just sunlight again, reflected by our nearby heavenly body onto the object we are looking at.
Colour. What is it?
We have all seen a rainbow. We see the colours because there is sun – and rain. The sun shines through the raindrops which refract or split up the sunlight into the colour spectrum from blue to red. Also, we are all brought up to know that the sky is blue, the sea – deep blue, roses are red and violets are blue…fields – and trees, are green. Except, of course, when they are not.
The sky is more likely to be several of many shades of grey, roses – any colour you like including black (well, a very, very dark reddish-blue), and fields, probably golden brown if supporting cereals, or yellow with rape seed. And trees…with a few exceptions, pretty well exclusively one or more shades of green from spring through to the autumn when gold and browns dominate in deciduous woodland.
Our perception of a colour is almost wholly dependant on looking at whatever it is bathed in sunlight, because it is the colour of the light reflected from the object that we actually see. Almost, because the texture of some surfaces can absorb some of that sunlight as if in the shade. Added to that, according to colourblindawareness approximately 8% of men and 0.5% of women have a degree of colour blindness which can take a number of forms.
So one in twelve men should exercise caution when buying lipstick for a partner – or themselves!
Colour and Cars
Seen any brown cars lately? No, me neither…
A brown car communicates ‘Abigail’s Party’, strikes and the 3-day week.
When buying a new car, the customer selects the colour he – or she prefers, from a spectrum of colours which the manufacture provides, to include subtle finishes to enhance – or, more importantly, to entice the prospective purchaser and close the sale.
History has it that this was not always so. In Henry Ford’s 1923 autobiography ‘Henry Ford – My Life and Work’ he quoted himself as having said that a Model ‘T’ “…could be any colour so long it is black…” However, in the early years of production there were Model ‘T’s in other colours. It was only when it became clear that black paint dried quicker that black predominated. So, Mr Ford sought to speed up manufacture rather than pander to the buying public’s preferences for colour.
Nowadays, according to theaa the top colours for cars registered in 2013 were…
Silver 29%; Blue 23%; Black 23%; Red 9%; Green 6%; White 4%;
Yellow and Beige (no surprise!) 1%.
However a probable exception to this would be Ferrari, where one colour – Red, is the most popular although the term Testarossa – literally ‘Red Head’ is derived from the colour of the cam covers on the engine. So you might prefer a brown one (?!), although it would still be a Testarossa.
Nevertheless, if it is stunning, fast and very expensive – and Red – it is very probably a Ferrari – an example of a colour communicating a brand.
Colour and Ideas
For more everyday items and services, any organisation which achieves instant recognition through colour alone has got it right. Be it their letterhead, website, packaging, logo…….we recognize who they are and what they do.
Political parties use colour along with some form of logo. Those of the three main UK parties are shown below:
The Liberal Democrats yellow ‘Bird of Liberty’ appeared in 1989 following the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) a year earlier. As a colour, yellow is generally seen as ‘sunny’, ‘warm’ and friendly’. According to politics a poll of branding experts carried out by EMR in 2011 considered this the best of the three party logos. Use of the liberty bird was praised ‘…as easily recognizable and appropriate branding linked to a guiding Liberal Democrat principle – freedom.’
In the same poll, The Conservative ‘Scribbled tree’ logo in green and blue came second. Blue has been a long-standing favorite of the Party linked to the phrase ‘True Blue’. phrases tells us that ‘Conservative politics has also maintained an association with the phrase and blue was adopted as the colour of the Tory Party in England (later called the Conservative Party). Staunch Conservative supporters, those whom Margaret Thatcher would have called ‘one of us’, are known as ‘true blue’ Tories’. The colour blue, whilst ‘cool’ if used in decor, communicates ‘authority’ and ‘steadfastness’. However the poll added that the use of green in the logo may cause confusion with the Green Party. Green, a colour usually associated with all things natural, ethical, organic…so no prizes for guessing that the Green Party’s logo is, well, GREEN!
Labour’s brand logo is predominately red, which harks back to The Red Flag, being a symbol of Socialism, Communism and left-wing politics which framed the founding of the Party in the early days of the 20th Century. In terms of colour, red is a warm and positive colour which announces itself as well as reflecting a not-so-subtle historical subtext which – in political terms – is left-leaning.
But regardless of the political message or ideology behind the logo it is still about selling. The logo and its colour are there to identify the product (in this case a political party) and imprint it on our minds so as we recognize it without having to know exactly what it is.
Colour and selling us stuff
So, what do the coloured blocks below say to you?
They both represent a single product, but they are different.
If you need a clue, it is chocolate. Now you’ve got it! The blue/mauve one is a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk wrapper, and the red, that’s the Cadbury’s Bourneville – the dark, bitter one. You do not need any writing on the wrapper in order to know exactly what it is. In the supermarket you pick it out by the colour of its wrapper.
According to cadbury, the ‘Bourneville’ variant – in a very similar colour wrapper of today was launched in 1908. The milk chocolate was launched 3 years earlier in mauve packaging with a red script – changing to mauve with gold lettering in 1920.
There are many, many more such examples. We know a tin of Heinz beans is blue with the shield-like black bit on it. Whilst there might be some deeper meaning in the particular shade of blue along the lines of ‘trust’, ‘reliability’ and such, what the blue tin with the black shield on the supermarket shelf communicates is – quite simply – BEANS…or more specifically – Heinz Beanz. So whatever marketing was going on back in 1901, it is unlikely they held focus groups with magic lantern slides predating a PowerPoint presentation!
Probably, someone just liked blue, so blue it was!
Colour and Us
As I said at the outset, colour is all around us and we are bombarded by the multitude of subliminal messages it sends and that we receive and unknowingly process.
When driving, we see a red light and we just know it means ‘stop’…whilst green will tell us the opposite. Nothing ambiguous about that. However colour is very much a part of descriptive language too. The phrases ‘Red with anger’…’Green with envy’ …’having the blues’…communicate moods and feelings – although some degree of redness can occur facially if someone is angry…or, conversely, embarrassed…or had too much sun…or just a bit too much booze…!
Bold primary colours speak to us more directly whereas our reactions to the myriad of subtle pastel shades are more abstract and complex. And the colour palette is vast. Just have a look at pantone to get an idea. By the way, their ‘Colour of the Year’ for 2014 is ‘Radiant Orchid’ (18-3224).
So, when it comes to your own organisation, the choice of colours you favour to promote your business and your vision needs to match the means by which you intend to communicate. This may include business cards, websites, signage, advertising in all its myriad forms, TV, even radio ads, given that logos can be displayed digitally on tablets and smart phones. Whatever you intend to do it is vital to select the ‘right’ colours.
A colour – or combination thereof can and does convey more – much more to your target market that just, well, a colour. Also, what looks good on a letterhead can look dreadful on an advertising hoarding so scale is important too!
So, your prospects might not know your name just yet, but if the colours you are using communicate with their psyche in some subtle way – you’ll get their attention!
Then it is up to you to deliver!
(Strictly no RED faces, though!!)