The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Does Colour Theory Reveal Your Insecurity?

One of the things I have always found fascinating is hearing how agencies explain their work.

It’s always so brilliantly detailed.

So articulate and precise.

So different to how any of the work I’ve been a part of came about.

In my personal experience, the process to the creative work has looked like this …

That’s right. A bloody mess.

Chaos rather than clarity.

Back and forth rather than a clear line.

Exploration and rabbit holes rather a smooth and efficient act of precision.

Got to be honest, I prefer it that way.

The idea of everything being so pure that you know the answer before you get to the answer scares the hell out of me.

Maybe that’s why I like giving creatives the best problem rather than a good solution.

Let them work out a way to solve it rather than expect them to just execute my answers.

The reason I say all this is because I recently saw this colour chart …

Putting aside that some of the brand/colour associations they’ve suggested make no fucking sense at all [ie: Nike = neutral/calm balance] it is interesting and frightening how much brands align with a colour stereotype.

Or should I say, a suggested colour stereotype.

OK … I’m being a dick, I know there is a lot of research in this field, but that doesn’t mean that just because your brand logo is in a character defined colour, you automatically convey that character.

But of course, this is what a branding company would say in their pitch …

“We chose orange as orange is a colour that conveys friendliness and we believe this makes you even more accessible”

But the reality is colour theory is the driving force behind logo colour recommendations, I would say it’s because of 2 reasons:

1. It’s how the brand wants to be perceived. [Ego]
2. It’s to hide how the brand is really perceived. [Fear]

Am I being a prick?

Probably. But as they say in the movie Dangerous Liaisons … people don’t answer questions with the truth, they answer questions in ways that protect their truth.

This is why I’ve always talked about ‘dirty little secrets’ … because often insights end up being about ‘convenient explanations’ of actions/behaviours/beliefs whereas the real driving force is something more personal. More conflicting. More interesting.

It’s why I find it far more interesting BP are in the green colour – nature, health and growth – than Animal Planet.

It’s also why I find BP far more differentiated than the friendly, orange colour of Gulf Petroleum.

Because while colour choice for logo design is important, anyone who tries to claim it defines what the brand is and/or how it is perceived in culture is either a fucking bubble-dwelling idiot, a ‘category convention’ sheep or someone who believes the Pepsi logo design strategy is up there with Leonardo Da Vinci.

22 Comments so far
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You’re on fire at the moment Robert. Burning sacred cows wherever you go. Love it. Colour theory absolutely does exist but not in the way people in marketing use it or how consultants sell it. For them, they suggest it is a secret system to guaranteed success. What they mean is it is a secret system for their own success.

Comment by Geeorge

He is Mr Pyromania at the moment.

Comment by Pete

Hahahaha … thanks, that’s also my favourite Def Leppard album.

Comment by Rob

It seems consultants have taken the underlying meaning of a colour in culture (red = danger), redefined the meaning (red = excitement) and then sold it to clients as a semiotic approach to achieving brand or message clarity.

Is it totally wrong? No. But it also isn’t totally right either, especially if they suggest grey/silver represents calm and then use Apple and Nike as examples of that.

Comment by Pete

I think that is exactly what they have done. You can say what you like about consultants, but they are phenomenal at finding new business opportunities to generate profit.

And yes, Nike and Apple have nothing to do with calmness. Excitement and creativity, but calmness? And since when has black been classed as silver?


Comment by George

Absolutely Pete. Colour theory obviously does exist – it is something we are acutely aware of from the earliest of days. I’m not disputing that.

My issue is how it is currently being sold and what it represents … because in many cases, we are seeing them dilute any meaning a colour may have by associating them with brands practicing the absolute opposite of what it supposedly represents in a bid to counter their clients fear or satisfy their ego.

Worse, they’re selling the same thing to every client which means we have Petroleum companies in green and technology companies in silver.

They’ve turned something true into snake oil. The equivalent of a terrible salesperson who tells you that you “look great” in an outfit 3 sizes too small for you.

Comment by Rob

Another thing that has been abused for personal gain.

Comment by Pete

Yep. From destroying definition of words [ie: revolutionary] to destroying colour theory. There is no end to what we – and especially branding consultants – will do for a £1.

Comment by Rob

In my experience;
1. what colour has the competition not taken
2. then how can we make it look like it was an intentional decision reflecting some touchy feely rubbish and not point 1.

Comment by Nathalie

Hello Nathalie, lovely to have you comment.

Especially with that sort of comment.

You’re welcome here anytime, ha.

Comment by Rob

Made for here.

Comment by DH

Colours have different wavelengths. We see some of them before we see others. That’s why there should be far more use of yellow in suoermarkets than there is. I wrote a post about this a decade ago.

You can attach personalities to them if you like but that’s just pseudoscience. Agent Orange didn’t convey much friendliness.

Comment by John

“Agent orange didn’t convey much friendliness.”

Comment of the year. I salute you John.

Comment by George

That’s excellent – though wait for someone to reposition it. I remember seeing a US gun company position their weapons of death as ‘America’s Defender’.

Comment by Rob

I bet the branding experts told them it would. Wasn’t it given that name because of an orange label on the containers to help identify it?

Comment by Bazza

stop being a school swat. you know everyone fucking hates them.

Comment by andy@cynic

Balance and calm? Seems our billions on marketing has failed.

Comment by Bazza

Bank balance and the calm of wealth?

Comment by DH

i fucking hate consultant wankers.

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by DH

Rob, Your relentless humor in the face of corporate non-humor is much appreciated, Whenever I hear people pontificate on “color theory”, I am reminded of my mother, who never tired of calling a color “bilious” . And how I love the standard “bilious” definition: ‘Definition of bilious 1 a biology : of or relating to a yellow or greenish fluid that is secreted by the liver and that aids especially in the emulsification and absorption of fats : of or relating to bile ‘

Comment by Meg Maggio

I don’t know you but you and your mother are too smart to be on here.

Comment by Bazza

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