Much ado about hue


"On bright red days, how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels."

–Dr. Seuss, My Many Colored Days

Color is really so powerful. In many ways, it is its own language. Without the presence of actual words, color can tell a story, create energy, and stir emotion. It guides us daily, from yellow caution tape and red stoplights to green grass and blue skies. Color quietly tells our brains where we want to be, how we should feel, and even sometimes what we need to do. In both obvious and subtle ways, color can reinforce existing emotions or inspire new associations. The animated cast of Pixar's Inside Out is a great example of how we associate basic colors with core emotions–yellow is joy; blue is sadness; red is anger; green is disgust. The color coding of these characters helps to intensify each of their roles in a very intrinsic way. The animator's color application helps viewers of all ages to more quickly and more deeply understand the story and get to know the characters' personalities.

On a more abstract level, we can see the emotional influence of color on culture and vice versa with the release of this year's Pantone Color of the Year. For the first time, Pantone's Color of the Year is actually two colors–Rose Quartz and Serenity. According to Pantone's website, "As consumers seek mindfulness and well-being as an antidote to modern day stresses, welcoming colors that psychologically fulfill our yearning for reassurance and security are becoming more prominent. Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace." The site goes on to say that this year's color selection is also a reflection of the gender equality and fluidity movements that are gaining strength around the world, impacting fashion and how we all use color.

As brand stewards, much of what we do revolves around establishing, applying, and policing consistent expression of brand guidelines for clients. Within these sacred guidelines lies the official approved color palette. A common strategy for brand colors is to "own a color" within a product or service category. This can be a strong and successful directive as in the examples of Target, Tiffany's, The Home Depot, and UPS to name a few. But as Jose Martinez Salmeron urges in his article If You Love Your Brand, Set It Free, maybe it is time to embrace greater brand flexibility. Consistency is, of course, still desirable but so is adaptability, relevancy, and customization. Consistency without wear out is the goal. Today's consumers want to be surprised and engaged. Boredom can be a relationship killer. So consider adopting a color strategy for your brand that allows you to have your cake and eat it too. Consider taking pages from the brand playbooks of icons like Google, MTV, and Starbucks. Work toward developing a strong brand identity that allows your logo or brand graphics to be containers for content. Seek to balance your primary corporate colors with a more versatile palette that will uphold your brand personality while connecting with and even delighting your audience. Evolving your brand guidelines may allow you to own a category color while also more fully realizing the potential power of color, giving you an air of emotional sophistication your target may just swoon for.