Growing up, you probably had a favorite color. In fact, you still may.
But what do you think when you see that color? What words come to mind? How does it make you feel?
Different colors have been shown to stir different emotions in us (both positive and negative) and create different associations with brands. This is the psychology of color, and color has played a huge part in brand marketing and brand identity over the years.
We have all heard the saying that “a picture paints a thousand words,” but even just a color can create as deep an association with a brand as any name or slogan. In fact, a 2005 University of Loyola study found that using a color wheel can increase brand recognition by 80%. For example, the combination of bright orange and pink may spark an association to Dunkin', which even after undergoing a rebrand in 2019 kept their brand colors the same (because when you have great brand colors, you don't change them!).
In this post, we’re going to take a look at seven big brands that have made a particular color their own (and sometimes literally own) brand color scheme. Why did each brand choose the color they did? And how is that color palette likely (and intended) to make consumers feel, both consciously and subconsciously?
Reportedly, Coca-Cola’s iconic red (which, strictly speaking, is actually a mix of three different shades of red) originally came about for practical, rather than marketing, reasons.
The barrels in which Coke was transported in the 1890s were painted red in order to distinguish them from barrels containing alcohol. The color stuck and when Coke started to be sold in individual bottles, the red appeared on those, too.
From a marketing perspective, of course, the other piece of the puzzle is about creating the association between the color and the brand's personality traits. And, for Coke, that meant applying it to all aspects of the Coke business – not just product packaging, but advertising, merchandise, and even its (now equally iconic) red-liveried trucks. There’s even the entertaining, (although invented, sadly) story that it was Coke that led to Santa Claus’ suit being red.
There’s no better example of Coke’s drive to put the iconic red front and center than in its most recent redesign – which it calls its ‘One Brand Strategy’.
Coca-Cola's "One Brand Strategy" is a redesign that emphasizes the brand's iconic red color and puts it front and center.
This strategy is a clear example of Coke's commitment to making its brand and visual identity as prominent as possible. The new design can be seen across all of Coke's marketing and branding materials, including packaging, advertisements, and promotional items.
By focusing on the brand's key elements and bringing them to the forefront, Coke hopes to strengthen its connection with consumers and reinforce its position as a global leader in the beverage industry.
As you’ll no doubt have noticed (that’s the power of the color, you see) the previously-black Coke Zero packaging (and, in many national markets, the Diet Coke silver packaging) has been replaced with an almost entirely red color scheme, visually very similar to the ‘classic’ Coke cans. And of course, visually very distinct from the blue, black, and silver packaging of its main rival, Pepsi.
What’s more, even if Coke’s choice of red wasn’t originally driven by consumer psychology considerations, it certainly turned out to be an appropriate choice for the brand. Red is a confident, bold color, that signifies passion, energy, excitement, and vitality – exactly the sort of emotions a brand like Coke might want to tap into.
For other ‘Red’ brands, think Target, McDonalds, Vodafone, Kellogg’s, and Virgin Atlantic.
Home Depot certainly follows Coke’s lead in taking a single color scheme and applying it as widely across as many aspects of its business identity as it can.
Walk into (or indeed outside) a Home Depot store and you will see that familiar orange color everywhere. So central is the color to Home Depot’s brand that the company has successfully obtained a trademark over it.
But why orange? Well, as with Coke, the story of the ‘Home Depot orange’ (PANTONE 165 C) is more about practicality that any deep insight on the founders’ part into consumer or brand color psychology. As co-founder Bernie Marcus put it:
“We painted our signs on bright orange circus-tent canvas, which cost a fraction of the more common electric signs.”
But again, it also happens to be the case that a number of the emotions associated with orange – optimism, affordability, friendliness, and spontaneity – also fit well with Home Depot’s wider brand message.
Additionally, the association with affordability and spontaneity suggests that Home Depot is a convenient and accessible place to find the products and services that customers need, whether they are planning a big home improvement project or just looking for a quick fix. Overall, the use of orange in Home Depot's branding helps to create a cohesive and compelling brand identity that resonates with customers.
So if you’ve ever gone to Home Depot and come out with several impulse purchases that you had no intention of making, blame it on the orange…
Interestingly, the UK’s largest DIY chain, B&Q – although not linked at all to Home Depot – has similarly chosen orange as its brand color. So much so that an American visiting Britain might wonder if they’ve stepped into a Home Depot by mistake.
For other ‘orange’ brands, think Nickelodeon, EasyJet, Hooters, Stihl, and – of course – Orange.
Caterpillar is a great example of how a color change can be the making of a brand image.
Before it painted its machines in its distinctive (and now trademarked) shade of yellow, (PANTONE: 1235 C) Caterpillar’s machines were gray with red trim. Would the CAT brand have become so iconic if it had stayed gray?
It is impossible to say for certain whether the Caterpillar (CAT) brand would have become as iconic if it had kept its original gray color scheme with red trim. However, the use of a distinctive and highly visible color such as yellow has likely played a role in the brand's success and recognition.
The bright yellow color of Caterpillar's machines serves as an effective tool for building brand recognition and recall.
This is because the use of a distinctive color palette is a key element of brand identity and can help to immediately identify a company's products or services.
In the case of Caterpillar, the bold yellow hue stands out on construction sites and other settings where the machines are used, making them easily identifiable to both industry professionals and the general public.
From a color theory perspective, the use of yellow may also be effective in creating a sense of energy and positivity, which can be associated with the company's products and services. The yellow color palette may also be paired with complimentary colors, such as black or grey, to create a cohesive and visually striking brand aesthetic.
Overall, the consistent use of the same bright yellow color across Caterpillar's machines and branding materials helps to reinforce the company's identity and establish it as a recognizable and trusted brand in the heavy machinery industry.
Again, as a color choice, yellow is one part functional imperative (with such heavy machinery, visibility is a must and yellow catches the eyes quicker than other colors) and one part highly effective - even if accidental - brand psychology.
It is the former which made Caterpillar machinery stand out on a construction site and might also explain why yellow is seen in several big brands across the construction industry, including Caterpillar’s large British rival, JCB, and toolmaker Stanley.
But it is the latter that helped it extend the brand to footwear, workwear, smartphones, and the various other popular Caterpillar products we see today. Yellow is associated with, warmth, positivism, and the exact rugged, outdoorsy quality that Caterpillar is hoping to evoke in all of us.
For other yellow brand color palettes, think The Yellow Book, Post-It Notes (the yellow color of which is trademarked), National Geographic, and The Wiffle Ball Bat (another trademarked yellow).
Other than the color red and “danger”, due to the strong association between the color green and the environment, many brands that position themselves as eco-friendly or sustainable often incorporate green into their brand color palette.
This can be seen in the logos, branding materials, and products of companies that focus on natural or organic products, renewable energy, and other environmentally-conscious initiatives having green as their dominant color.
From a color theory perspective, green is often associated with nature, growth, and harmony, which aligns with the values and messages that these brands aim to convey. Green can also be used as an accent color to add a natural touch to a brand's overall color scheme, or it can be paired with other colors, such as brown or beige, to create a cohesive and earthy aesthetic.
In any case, the use of green as a brand color can help to communicate a company's commitment to sustainability and the environment, and can also help to differentiate them from competitors in the market.
So much so, indeed, that it would be hard to imagine a company that was keen to emphasise its environmental credentials not having green in its logo or branding color palette.
In addition to representing nature and eco-friendliness, green is also said to signify growth, equilibrium, stability, peacefulness, and health.
But green is also a good example of how a company might use the positive associations with a color as a way to try to shift consumer perceptions of it as a brand.
Energy company BP is perhaps the epitome of this. Since the turn of the millennium, it has emphasized the use of green in both its logo and branding color palette. Its aim? To create the impression that it is focused primarily on the environment – in effect, the exact opposite of what fossil fuel companies are traditionally associated with.
While the effectiveness of BP's use of green as a branding color in relation to its eco-friendly initiatives may be open to debate, it is important to consider the role that colors can play in shaping our perceptions and associations with a company or brand.
From a branding perspective, the use of certain colors can evoke specific emotions, ideas, and associations in the minds of consumers. For example, lighter colors, such as green, are often associated with nature, freshness, and calm, while darker colors, such as black or red, may be associated with power, sophistication, or danger.
The use of dominant colors, such as green, in a brand's color code can also help to create a cohesive visual identity and stand out in the marketplace.
Ultimately, the success of BP's use of green as a branding color may depend on a variety of factors, including the company's overall branding strategy and the specific context in which the color is used
For other ‘green’ brands, think Subway, Jaguar, Land Rover, Whole Foods, WhatsApp, John Deere, and Holiday Inn.
Given how iconic the color is (it has its own Wikipedia entry), “Tiffany Blue” is perhaps most notable for the fact that it isn’t particularly blue at all. Or at least not the royal blue or navy that we might instinctively think of when calling the blue color wheel to mind.
But that doesn’t make the pale, robin’s egg color, trademarked since 1998, any less impactful.
The color was first used by founder Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1845 for the cover of the company’s first catalog. Tiffany’s inspiration was, reportedly, the popularity of the color – or rather the popularity of turquoise gemstones – among brides at the time. Even the Pantone number (1837) chosen for the color nods to Tiffany’s heritage - 1837 was the year Tiffany’s was founded.
Tiffany Blue evokes feelings of elegance and luxury, but that’s not necessarily true of all blues. Lighter blues are more typically associated with tranquility, openness, and innocence, while darker navies evoke a more mature professionalism, security, and trustworthiness.
Interestingly, while western cultures generally see blue as a masculine color (a prime example, being Viagra, “the little blue pill”), Chinese culture typically associates blue with women.
This goes to show that, particularly in today’s increasingly global marketplace, brands will increasingly need to be attuned to the (potentially divergent) impression of different colors in different countries when picking the hue to represent their brand.
For other ‘blue’ brands, think Facebook, IBM, Barclays, Chase, Pfizer, and Ford.
Compared to the other companies on this list, T-Mobile is by far the youngest. It entered the US market as a brand in its own right as recently as 2001.
Despite being a relatively young company, T-Mobile has managed to establish itself as a major player in the telecommunications industry and develop a strong and recognizable brand identity.
One key element of this identity is the company's signature magenta color, which is used consistently in its branding materials, marketing campaigns, and store design.
The use of magenta helps to set T-Mobile apart from its competitors and create a sense of energy and excitement around the brand. The color may also be effective in attracting potential customers and drawing their attention due to its ability to stimulate visuals and create a sense of energy and excitement.
In terms of graphic design, the use of most shades of magenta can be challenging due to the potential for the color to feel overwhelming or overwhelming in large amounts. However, the careful use of magenta as an accent color or in combination with neutral tones can help to create a visually striking and impactful brand aesthetic.
Overall, the successful incorporation of magenta into T-Mobile's brand identity has helped to establish the company as a distinctive and trusted player in the telecommunications industry.
Why T-Mobile opted for magenta over other colors isn’t wholly clear, but from a color perspective, the choice is certainly one that makes sense – pink, specifically vibrant, ‘hot’ pinks like magenta, are associated with fun, love, and youthful energy.
Traditionally, pink also evokes a femininity that is less relevant to T-Mobile, but has certainly been central to many other brands’ choice of pink as a brand color, most notably Barbie.
For other ‘pink’ brands, think Barbie, Baskin Robbins, LG, Hello Kitty and Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
If you speak to someone from the UK, there are few brand and color combinations more iconic than Cadbury and the signature purple (Pantone 2685C) that it has used since Victorian times. The story has it that purple was Queen Victoria’s favorite color, which is why the Cadbury brothers chose it for their early packaging.
In addition to that regal aura, purple is associated with creativity and unconventionality, something Cadbury has also leaned towards, particularly in its advertising. Its recent commercials have featured everything from eyebrow-syncing to drumming gorillas, each with the signature purple heavily featured.
For other ‘purple’ brands, think Yahoo, Hallmark, Taco Bell, FedEx, and Milka.
That’s just a snapshot of the ‘rainbow’ of colors with which some of the world’s biggest brands have sought to associate themselves with. There are, of course, other colors and companies that will always be connected – whether its UPS’ brown, Apple’s white, or Guiness’ black.
What’s also clear is that some of these brands, in effect, got lucky. Colors that were chosen for largely practical reasons also happened to evoke exactly the kind of psychological responses and associations that a marketer may have chosen if they’d been given free rein.
When it comes to choosing your brand's colors, think carefully about what they may convey to your potential audience. For example, green and red may be a great color combination for a holiday or Christmas ad, but not so much for a law firm.
If you want to take the luck out of choosing colors that work for your brand, contact Superside now to tap directly into our pool of specialist design talent.
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