Red for Coca Cola, purple for Cadbury and Green for BP. Without the colours, how memorable would a brand be?


Extensive research has been completed looking into brand awareness by consumers and how to increase it within your target market, but only recently has the effect of colour on brand and brand awareness been examined such as in this study by Lauren I. Labrecque and George R. Milne. So if you are looking to start up a new business, what colour should you chose?

The definition of Branding and brand awareness according to Kevin Keller is that “Brands serve as markers for the offerings of a firm. For customers, brands can simplify choice, promise a particular quality level, reduce risk, and/or engender trust.” The Entrepreneur website offers a more concise definition of branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products”

Neither of these definitions mention colour, but it is implied that a company brand is more than just a name or stylised font. The feelings triggered by the consumer on seeing the combined shape, style and colour of the business logo and combined branding all reinforce or create an image of what that product or company can offer a consumer.

Brands and colour

Figure 1. Logos and brands of the world. Credit: The Logo Company

Colours and the feelings they invoke

The brand matrix put together by The Logo Company (Figure 1) suggests that certain colours have pre-defined feelings and meanings associated to them by consumers, limiting the use of colours to certain industries or product ranges but this immediately throws up exceptions to the rule. While green certainly suits Animal Planet, Monster Energy does not fit the emotions of peace, growth and health. Yellow is assigned the feelings of optimism, clarity and warmth however very few consumers would express those sentiments unless they were being sarcastic about the latest UPS or DHL shipment that turned up a week late.

Research conducted as far back as 1990 when social media and HD TV were not available was even able to prove that when a brand is strong enough, consumers will put the brand value and social standing above product taste or quality. In a study on consumer behaviour by Timothy Wilson and Jonathan Schooler, the consumers were asked to rank strawberry jams on taste, ordering them from top to bottom. The study was then re-run but the consumers were asked to write down their reasoning why the taste was better or worse, the results recorded for the products were the opposite from the first experiment. The conclusion of this study was that the second experiment forced consumers to use their conscious brain to justify their decision and social pressures about what jam they “should” chose overrode the lower level taste differentiation that was measured in the first experiment

So if colour alone is not important, what is?

So while colour is important, the overall brand look, feel and marketing that is behind the brand appear to be a greater emotional driver than colour alone. This is supported by the statement from Ioacobucci that “Brands aren’t just extensions of the customer, they are expressions of customers ideal selves or the selves to which they aspire” (Iacobucci, 2013). Where colour is important however is the ability for a consumer to quickly identify and associate positive emotions to a brand when making subconscious purchasing decisions and feed their desire for an improved future self.

When choosing a colour to associate your brand to, how competitors in that market have branded themselves is a key consideration and should be closely examined. Reds, for example are often associated with fast food (think McDonalds, KFC and Burger King) with greens and browns being the healthier fast food alternatives, Subway and Sushi Sushi. The choice then is whether to conform to the normal colour scheme or to deliberately stand out from the crowd.

Branding Strategy

Conformity is fraught with danger according to the Harvard Business Review, especially when trying to attack an incumbent brand as Virgin Cola tried to do with Coca Cola and Pepsi. The result was as predictable as it was expensive for Virgin with the brand only lasting 9 years in the US market before going into liquidation.

virgin-cola                              Coke Can

A strategy more likely to be successful is the one used by Red Bull who carved out a new niche and became a globally dominant product before the existing brands could counter its rise. Their strategy was to package their product differently to Coca Cola and Pepsi along with branding and promotion different to anything that had been done before.

So with imitation being a dangerous game, successful companies that enter an existing market need to differentiate themselves using colours as well as other visual cues to provide memory triggers to consumers as shown by Red Bull. This assists with the consumer identifying and selecting the product in those critical seconds where decisions are made on stored knowledge and experiences.

Author: Andrew Kingstone 215477263

Non-hyperlinked reference:

Iacobucci, D., 2013. Marketing Management. In: 4 ed. Mason: Cengage Learning, p. 80.



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