Which colour should be selected for your brand?

Kirit Jasani

Article published in Marketing Master Mind – February 2010, written by Kirit Jasani.

Which colour should be selected for your brand?

When companies want to launch new brands, they normally select the colours which seems to go with the product category, or a colour which is being used by their competitors. By doing so, they underestimate the power of colour and miss the opportunity to be a unique brand. Here is a detailed guide on how colour selection should be done for a brand, as it forms a very important part of the branding element in the long run.

When you have to create a brand name thousands of ideas can be explored as there are innumerable alternatives. But when it comes to the selection of colours, the choice is comparatively limited, and some of them may be inappropriate for one reason or the other. In such a situation the normal tendency is to choose colours similar to those being commonly used by the industry or by other brands in the product category. And this is where a classic mistake of branding is done. The basic underlying principle of branding is that you have to differentiate your brand from those of your competitors. To understand this more clearly, let us explore further through a practical example.
Electrotherm (India) limited is a multidivisional ISO 9001:2000 certified company. it has a division, known as Electrotherm Renewable Division. The first product of this division is a solar water heater; and R&D is in process for other products related to wind energy, etc. This division was in plans to come up with a new brand of solar water heater. They had done all the home work. The brand name had been decided as “Electra” and the logo was ready too! But the colour scheme was in question, and the entire brand identity had to be reviewed again. This is not a good practice, as the time and effort required on the part of a brand management agency to rectify it, could sometimes exceed that taken for the original creation.

The Logic of Colour
What colour might the company have selected initially? Yes, you have guessed it right – ‘green’; and this is the classic mistake. You would say, what is the problem in selecting the colour green? It is very logical because the division is working on renewable energy, which is otherwise identified as ‘green energy’, and hence the choice of colour is quite logical and meaningful. True, very true, but branding requires focusing on consumer perception, rather than on logic.
The perception related to colours was inculcated in our minds when we were children, and began drawing and colouring. In the primary school the child at sometime draws natural scenery with trees, leaves, water, mountain, birds, the sun, etc., and the child is taught to colour the picture using the appropriate natural colours. If a child is applying red colour to leaves the teacher immediately corrects the child – “No dear. Always remember leaves are of green colour.” And the kid changes it to green. Since that time, green stands for leaves and trees, brown for mountains, blue for water, black for birds, orange and yellow for the sun, etc. Once the mind has accepted green for leaves, it is next to impossible to change the association. This logic is extended when the same kid grows up and becomes a business head of brand manger of a company. He would think leaves means green. Absolutely true!

Why not Green?
We had an opinion that Electra should not go ahead with the green colour. Because branding is a long run process and to achieve success in the long-term, you need to differentiate; stand for something specific and colour is one of the elements that facilitate the same. A new brand should generally avoid adorning the colours which are already put on by someone else. But this is, at times, really difficult to implement because there is only a limited palette of basic colours. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue are the basic distinctive colours, while black, white and grey are neutral colours. It is always advisable to select from among one of the basic colours, rather than going in for a mixed colour. But the question here is which colour should one select?

Each colour is different, and each one has a significantly different impact when it is viewed. Colours, which are at the red end of spectrum, focus slightly in front of the retina, and, therefore the objects in those colours seem to travel towards us. Colours, at the blue end of the spectrum, are focused slightly behind the retina, and objects in those colours seem to move away from us. Orange, being at the red end of spectrum, has got properties similar to red; and green, being on the blue end of the spectrum, behaves almost like blue. Yellow is at the middle of the spectrum and is neutral on this dimension. Thus, Red is the opposite of blue, and orange is the opposite of green. Red is considered the colour of excitement, and blue is considered to represent stability.

While selecting the colour for a brand name or logo, the brand manger or CEO normally aims to be in tune with the category, rather than creating a unique identity. Usually, the safe colour to select is the one that is symbolic of the category you want to be in. But, what if someone else has already occupied the space with that colour, much earlier than you? This hard truth is overlooked most of the time by managers and CEOs, and they end up selecting a colour which puts the brand in a cluster among others, thereby making it difficult for it to stand out uniquely and distinctively. This was the case with Electra too.

Why is Blue the best colour?
A new brand should not occupy the same slot already appropriated by the competitors. If you are trying to fight with the established leader, then the basic guideline is – “Always be the opposite of the leader.” When you look at the leading players of the solar water heater industry on the colour spectrum, what you would see is that ‘red’ is occupied by SunRay and V-Guard, ‘Orange’ is taken by Warm Stream and Gilma, and ‘Yellow’ is used by TATA BP Solar. Thus, there was no point in selecting red, orange or yellow colour for Electra as the objective was to have a unique identity. Among the prominent primary colours, the only choices available were green and blue. Electra had already prepared a brand identity using green, thought it was not entirely in green, but used a mix of green and black. (Exhibiti: 1)

Exhibit 1: The initial Logo proposed by company personnel


However, anyone entering the renewable energy business was likely to use some shade of green. Thus, it was possible that several new players would ahve green in their logo, packaging, in their collaterals, on their websites, etc. Therefore, by selecting green, Electra was likely to end up placing itself in a clutter of green, establishing a unique visual identity would become difficult. If the target audience is confused about the identity or cannot recall then brand, sales prospects would be vastly diminished.

And what is the probability that anybody jumping into the renewable energy segment will go for a brand identity in blue colour? It is obvious that the possibility is relatively quiet low. Therefore, here was a chance which was not affordable to be missed, and a chance to rectify the classic mistake made by company as the product and not yet been launched officially. Hence, it was advised that the company should have its logo in blue colour (Exhibit: 2)

Exhibit 2: Vaccant space for colour selection by Electra

But there was a question. Is blue a good colour for a solar water heater? Our honest opinion – “May be yes or May be no.” But what is more important here is the creation of a unique identity, rather than looking for what is good or logical. To look at it in another way, the blue identity helped in establishing the fact that Electra was distinct from the existing leading players, and thus avoided the unnecessary exercise of trying to attract people towards something similar to the others.

Font Style and Orientation of the Logo
Along with colour, the identity created by team Electra had a few other problems, such as font type, size and proportion. There is no doubt that it was preferable that the logo had a horizontal orientation (landscape), rather than a vertical one (portrait). However, it had to be of a suitable proportion. But the logo created by Electra was too stretched out horizontally, and was not visually appealing. The attractiveness was also diluted due to the slit font type used in the logo. To overcome these problems, a new brand identity was proposed and the same was accepted by the Managing Director of Electrotherm Renewable Energy Division. In this new logo, a graphical representation of the sun was also incorporated, and it was still in a single colour, i.e. blue (Exhibit: 3)

Exhibit 3: Logo created by agency

The change in the brand identity and its colour served two basic purposes, firstly, it created a different identity among the clutter of solar water heater manufacturers in the market and secondly, it solved the problem of visibility at the retail level. When both the identities of the same height are compared, the new identity turns out to be a clear winner in terms of visibility (Exhibit: 4). This is quite important, because barring minor aspects of some features, most solar water heaters are almost similar; yet, consumers are always looking for something different.

Exhibit 4: The old and New logos compared

The product with new brand identity
After creating a new brand identity, it has to be used to promote the brand in every possible manner, especially when one has selected a different route. All communications should highlight the colour associated with the brand logo, so that whenever a target consumer comes across the brand, he recognizes it immediately, and this provides an opportunity for recall and reinforcement. The brand should establish ownership of its colour.

In the case of Electra, change of colour identity had to start from the product itself, as the division was ready with 2000 pieces, which required a change of colour. The colour scheme of the product in stock was change and the difference in visibility and distinctiveness between the two versions is shown in Exhibit 5.

Exhibit 5: The product - with the old and new brand identities

The company had a positioning line called “the fiery sun”, which actually did not mean much and did not get translated into benefit for the consumer. So, this was changed to “the solar energy expert” as this brand – Electra of the renewable energy division was meant to operate in the solar energy segment only. It might be preferable to have other brands for future business in wind energy and other forms of renewable energy.

Consumers rend to associate with brands which draw their attention and position themselves in a unique way. Therefore, teaser ads were designed and utmost care was taken so that the brand comes to won the blue colour. The teaser ads were prepared with blue colour prominently in the background , and with a contrasting graphic of an orange sun. A set of three teaser ads were used, which said – “ Hum laa rahe hai, suraj ko dharthi par” (we are bringing the sun to the earth), and showed a young family stretching our joyfully to reach out to the sun. They were followed by the main advertisement, which revealed the brand name and logo and said “The solar energy expert, Laye hai Electra solar water heater, ab har roz surj uthar ayega dharthi par.” (We have brought Electra solar water heater. Now the sun will descend upon the earth every day) Refer Exhibit 6.

Teaser ad 01


Teaser ad 02

Teaser ad 03


Revealing ad

Brand colours should be selected considering what colours have already been used by the competitors. If any colours are strongly identified with specific brands, they should be avoided. Also, avoid falling in line with the common colours used in the product category. The purpose of branding is to stand our distinctively. It is advisable to use a single colour (one of the prominent basic colours) in one’s brand identity, rather than using a mix of colours. Once a brand colour is selected, it must be used in all forms of communication so as to establish ownership of the chosen colour.


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