Choosing the right colours for your brand

“Is there value to the colour of a pomegranate?”

“… Yeah. There is.”

“Exactly!”

Colours hold innate value, deeply entrenched meaning, and the power to induce multifarious emotions and nostalgic sentiments. The challenge, then, is to put them to work for you, aligning their influential nuances with the message your brand wants to convey. 

The conversation above occurred in Hong Kong between Anthony Bourdain and one of the most influential cinematographers of all time, Christopher Doyle, the man who posed the question, and the man who has dedicated his life to the contemplation of colour and light. He sees what many do not care to notice: How deeply our psyche is affected by the hues surrounding us each and every day. After all, something must have lured Persephone to pluck the fruit off the tree.

Anthony Bourdain and Christopher Doyle discussing art, colours and brands

Finding your position.

How do you want to present yourself? What do you want to communicate? Choosing an appropriate colour palette to fit your brand identity and position is crucial, so the general meanings of the colours used must be taken into account. Are you looking to present an image of cheerful, easy value? Then yellow might be a great choice to stand in at the front of your palette. Looking to imbue confidence and class? Then you had better think of another option.

Imagine yourself strolling down the aisle of the local liquor store and coming across a case of No Name brand beer next to a premium international import like Peroni Nastro Azzuro. One is a minimalist box clothed in a pure bright yellow while the other boasts are floating banners of blue silk, suggesting an impossibly stylish day of sailing off Italy’s Amalfi coast. This is not random (and by the way, “nastro azzuro” means “blue ribbon” in Italian, if you’ve ever wondered). So what are the basic connotations associated with the other colours that we read almost instinctively? Let’s take a look.

Anthony Bourdain tour of cinematic hong kong

Apple to my eye.

As mentioned above, yellow implies cheerfulness, happiness, cheapness, and in certain contexts (think old western movies), cowardice. Children tend to respond very well to yellow. I blame the smiley face. And what about Peroni’s blue? Well, as expected, it connotes high-quality, reliability, class, and masculinity. 

Ever wondered why the Italian soccer team wears blue uniforms and is nicknamed “Gli Azzuri” (“The Blues”) despite this colour being completely absent from their national flag? Curious. 

Onto some others. What about red? Lust, power, love, anger, passion, fertility… All things we feel and associate with this end of the spectrum. It is also said to induce an increase in appetite and is directly related to beauty in some cultures. Regardless of religious orientation, many are familiar with the red apple being the image of Eve’s original sin, and then there’s the pomegranate.

The cultural beauty phenomenon is easily observed in Russian, where the word for beauty (krasota) shares the same root with the word for red (krasniy). Two versions of the same thing. Perhaps this is why it features so prominently in Russian imagery, art, and architecture. I mean, who wouldn’t remember the name of Russia’s most famous square?

Filling in the gaps.

We could go on and on here, but it’s worth noting the salient features of some other common colours that make up a brand’s first visual impression. It is important to bring these connotations into our conscious mind before making a decision.

Green expresses health, eco-friendliness, tastefulness, and envy. The last on the list is the most difficult to explain, but the mind is a mysterious and beautiful place, so it must be taken at face value. Also, it is interesting to note that McDonald’s includes green in their logo everywhere except for North America. It makes one wonder what the underlying reason would be. One thing is for sure: There is most definitely a reason (and the decision was not taken lightly).

Pink connotes sophistication, femininity, and sincerity. Purple takes on meanings of ambition, luxury, and regality. Queen Elizabeth I only allowed close members of the royal family to wear it during her reign. At the opposite extreme, brown implies earthiness, simplicity, and ruggedness.

And what of the shades? White is clean, innocent, elegant, and pure, while black is sophisticated, serious, and expensive, but can also connote grief, fear, and death. The list and commentary could go on and on, but the point is that colours carry a lot of meaning, and a great deal of attention should be given to their selection.

Bringing it all together.

So what colour is best for your brand? Of course, this hinges on many factors, but first, define your values, your voice, your position, and what you want to say. Ask why you do what you do. Then, contemplate if the colour choice fits in with the sum of your reflections. 

Think of your ideal customer, or who is in your community, and how your choice of colours will make them feel about your brand. This will say a lot before one word is spoken or the first key is struck.

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