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Brands in Pink

It’s not just a colour. It’s a state of mind.

The colour pink is a unique and somewhat controversial colour that is loaded with meaning and emotions. Dr. Veronika Koller, a professor and researcher at Lancaster University who studied how people interpret the colour pink, says that pink contains more meanings than any other colour. This is a respectful summation of this revolutionary colour. If history has anything to tell us, the colour pink has a lot of opportunity left in it in the world of branding.

 

The Colour Pink

Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan, Museum of Art, says the colour pink isn’t part of the electromagnetic spectrum so we aren’t seeing actual wavelengths of pink light but “an extra –spectral color, which means other colors must be mixed to generate it.” The primary two colours to make pink is red and white but it is yellow and blue tones that form a wide spectrum of pink colours. Wikipedia has identified over 46 notable shades of the colour pink (where as blue has over 73). In the ranking of popular colours pink is listed as number four behind blue, black and grey.

Alice Bucknell in her article A Brief History of the Color Pink explains pink has been a spectacular contradiction for masculinity and femininity. In Japan, the colour pick is associated with masculinity honouring slain Samurais whereas western cultures popularized pink in the eighteen-century fashion scene within the pastel-loving bourgeoisie. The art world brought pink to the forefront starting with the French Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist movements (such as Claude Monet’s lilies and Edgar Degas’s dancers). In the 1960’s pop art took pink to the next level with artists like Andy Warhol (with his famous Marilyn Monroe). From there we saw pink move towards a vibrant neon-soaked 90s, to finally to a subdued Millennial pink that speaks to a more emotionally connected and tolerant society.

 

Tickled Pink

Pink is known as the happy colour. Think about cotton candy and bubble-gum— pure delights.

The psychology of the colour pink is firmly rooted in the perception that pink is a feminine colour that connotes nurture, care, calmness, romance and hope. Marketing has definitely played a role in portraying pink as a “girly” colour.

Intensify the colour to a hot vibrant pink and the psychological properties shift the tonality to youthful, energetic, sexy and fun. The range of moods and feeling pink can portray are vast and can quickly define gender and/or personality.

T-Mobile uses hot pink (magenta) to help differentiate their brand from the big competitors (AT&T and Verizon) and set an irreverent brand tone. In 2012, John Legere joined T-Mobile as CEO, who created a new brand around the colour of pink transforming the company to be more energetic, youthful and cooler. He must have done more than introduce hot pink to successful motivate his employees to proudly wear their shocking magenta uniforms every-day.  This brand transformation has been a large part of T-Mobile’s successful turnaround from a $29 billion in sales and negative $6 billion revenue loss to, today, a $51 billion in sales and positive revenue over $4 billion. In 2014 T-Mobile was successful in shutting out AT&T subsidiary from trying to use a similar magenta colour by trademarking theirs— feisty true colours.

 

Pretty in Pink

Associating baby boys with blue and baby girls with pink is a relatively new trend says Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She said the gender-code between pink and blue was firmly drawn in western societies in the early 1980s thanks to branding and marketers such as Care Bear, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and many Disney princesses. Pink became the leading colour to define pretty little girl’s materialistic world of glitter and fairy tales.

In 2011, Forbes reported that Disney Princess franchise made $1.6 billion (US) in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally. Making it the best-seller beating Star Wars, Sesame Street and superheroes. Pink power prevails.

The colour pink doesn’t stop with infants and young girls. Victoria Secret has successfully used the colour pink for over 40 years to build a lingerie empire of over $8 billion US (2015) in world-wide sales. In 2002, Victoria Secret introduced the PINK brand to attract high school and college-age girls to purchase causal loungewear a step down from the sexy lingerie.

 

Despite this pink persuasion, I have found no conclusive scientific evidence that gender-coded pink influences women more than men nor does it have any effect on human behavior. JR Thorpe stated in her article, Why Are We So Obsessed With Millennial Pink? There’s A Scientific Explanation For Everything, that there is sufficient “evidence that we do seem to view pinks in a positive light in some situations, likely as a result of cultural programming.”

Post World War II every home had some sort of pink household products based on targeting women who were entering into the work-force and started drawing a paycheque (thanks to the war). Remember grandma’s pink bathroom complete with pink doilies? As Jennifer Wright says in her article How Pink Became a Color for Girls, if a lady “tells you that her favorite color is “pink!” she might be telling you that she wants to be dainty and demure and stay at home. Or she might just be a badass who’s trying not to scare you too much.”  Does this mean that intrinsically women are influenced by pink to some degree, due to generational exposure or a desire to be part of something bigger?

 

The Politics of Pink

While the colour of pink has been associated with passive, innocent and girly. As an advocacy colour pink has been fierce and powerful, loaded with pride and strength.

The pink triangle was associated with the gay liberation movement but its original creation was far more evil as it was used by the Nazi’s to identity homosexual prisoners in concentration camps.

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York breast cancer survivor race. The following year, the pink ribbon became the official—now ubiquitous—symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In both cases, the pink colour is used to communicate active defiance and empowerment. Many feminist groups have adopted the colour pink as a sign of strength and pride in the mission towards equality and opportunity.

The pink ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent example of using the gender-coded colour pink to their advantage to promote awareness and increase early detection of breast cancer. Some people would argue that the pinkification of breast cancer has turned a horrible disease into a brand that has been commodified by other brands for their own profits. That being said, the BreastCancer.org estimate that “about 40,610 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2017 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.” I wasn’t able to find any awareness statistics on the pink ribbon campaign but I would guess it would be highest among the many ribbon campaigns that exist today.

 

For Pink Sake

Then there are those brands that don’t care about the gender-coding or personality traits of the colour pink. They just want a colour that will clearly differentiate them from the competitive pack.

Owens-Corning is one of those companies who introduced their Pink Fiberglas insulation into the market over 50 years ago. In 1980 they introduced the Pink Panther as their mascot in all of their marketing to accentuate their pinkness and likable pink personality. Since introducing the Pink Panther customers prefer pink insulation by a ratio of seven to one over the closet competition, as revealed in a Owens-Corning study done in the late 1990s. They were also one of the first company to successful trademark their colour against competition. Mr. Smith, Head of Marketing says, “We are fortunate. We have a trademark color that is up there with Coke red.” In his dreams!

In 1893, the Financial Times went from a generic white paper newspaper to a shade of salmon-pink which immediately distinguish it from all the competition. Why pink? It was cheaper to dye it pink than dying it white. Today, the opposite is true but as readers’ transition to the online version the colour is more about tradition than attracting attention on a dying newsstand.

 

Millennial Pink

Millennial Pink, also known as the Tumblr Pink or Scandinavian Pink (check out Pinterest), is the politically correct colour that has appeared in shades of beige with a touch of blush to a pleasing peach-salmon. This gender-neutral, androgynous colour is growing in popularity since it first appeared in 2012. You can find it in restaurants interiors, furniture, household products, clothing for both men and women, hair tints, drinks, rose-gold iPhones, and Drake’s album cover Hotline Bling, to name a few.

“Millennials are increasingly redefining what it means to be a grown-up in a seriously troubled world,” explains JR Thorpe. “Sometimes, we all want to be soothed — and what better way to do that than looking at Instagrams of a mid-century modern pink velvet settee.” May I suggest that they use the pinky velvet Pepto-Bismol, a better solution to sooth their tummies.

I predict there will be a few digital gender-neutral brands that will be utilizing this colour soon. Two brands that have embraced this restrained colour so far are Acne Studios clothing retailer and Thinx, a period-proof underwear company.

 

Pinked Out

No question, pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but you must understand the connection you are trying to build with the colour. You can’t ignore the historical gender connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity (both good and bad). Maybe Millennial Pink will making pink less about gender and more about how it makes you feel.  But until then, as hip-hop rapper Talib Kweli said “women are complex creatures.” I think the colour pink is just as complex.

However, many any brands have successfully broken away from the competitive crowd using the colour of pink and more new brands will do the same.

 

Check out “Does the Colour of a Brand Really Matter

 

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What does a red cup have to do with branding?

Full Stop – red cups are part of the Starbucks brand experience. As a matter of fact, over 60 million Starbucks cups are served each and every week. From the beginning of November until the end of December, Starbucks will be serving 480 million red holiday cups to help celebrate the festive season.

 

Eighteen years ago Starbucks launched their first holiday red cup – a duration that has created great expectations beyond a simple disposal coffee cup. Has this red cup replaced the advent calendar? With all the controversy so far this season you need to wonder.

 

 

Over the year’s Starbucks red cups has celebrated the holiday season with snowflakes, doves, reindeer, snowman, vintage ornaments, poinsettias, and Christmas trees, but this year they opted for a minimalist design of a two-tone red cup with no images. This brilliant long-term campaign has taken some of Coca-Cola’s best Christmas ideas and put them on a cup. Check out Time’s magazine for the evolution of the Starbucks red cup over the last seven years. This year’s red cup sans holiday icons has become blasphemy for many Christian’s organizations or an opportunity to create a controversy to garner media attention.

 

 

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ Vice President of Design and Content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

 

Customers See Red

 

Former Arizona Pastor Joshua Feuerstein wrote in a Facebook post “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” that went viral with over 14 million views in the last five days. This extreme view has stirred up the media and the social channels. Even Donald Trump has entered into the picture with the suggestion of boycotting Starbucks. Obviously he doesn’t have any Starbucks shares in his portfolio.

 

Starbucks issued a statement Sunday explaining that they are trying to create an environment that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way” and “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.“

 

Jay Parini, a poet and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God said on CNN.com that Starbucks red cup is an attempt to remove even the most secular side of Christmas by “strip[ping] all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life – seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.”

 

Or from Starbucks point of view it’s about creating your own texture and mythic potential without being spoon feed of what you should think or believe.

 

What 480 Million Red Cups Mean

 

There are a couple learning’s we should all take from this event.

 

First, colour does matter, (check out my article on colour), red is a very strong and vibrant colour that can stimulate high emotions – just ask a raging bull. In 2011, Coca-Cola changed their sacred red Coke can to white to celebrate the holiday season and were punished by retailers and customers who became confused by the change.

 

Second, customers own your brand. Before you change any representation of your brand make sure you understand what your customers’ think. Product packaging is sacred ground for loyal customers. If Apple changed their earphones from white to red what do you think would happen? Maybe nothing or maybe all hell might break loose.

 

Third, by providing ambiguity with a blank red cup and letting the customer fill the void leaves too much room for misinterpretation or anti-brand advocated to take advantage of the situation. The brand must own the space (physically & mentally) and direct the conversation.

 

I am happy that I don’t drink coffee and have to endure this tragedy on a daily bases for the next six weeks. However, I did hear that Starbucks has started using cup sleeves with snowflakes on them. Maybe this will appease the detractors.

 

The great thing is brands continue to have the power to inspire, create conversations and be news worthy without changing anything inside their cup. And as we see here, some brand loyalists will always see the cup as half empty and others as half full. Cheers.

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Does the colour of a brand really matter?

“Any color – so long as it’s black.”

Henry Ford

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If you followed the virtual sensation of what colour was the dress as people debated online about whether its colours were blue and black or white and gold then you would agree colour does matter. Research suggests cells in secondary visual cortex (V2)  is particularly responsible for how we see colour consistency, which explains why a red apple still looks red if we look at it outside, under a lamp or in different lightening conditions – unless you are looking at a blue or white dress.

Loyola College research points to the connection between colour and memory: seeing a logo in colour makes it 39% more memorable than seeing the same logo in black and white. Colour also drives engagement: adding colour to blog posts, product guides, print advertising and other brand collateral increases readership by 80%

According to KissMetrics, “Color increases brand recognition by 80%.” But you also need to differentiate your brand from the pack. If you are starting up a new bank you might want to use a different colour than blue which is used by: Chase, JP Morgan, Deutsche bank, RBS, RBC, Prudential, Barclays, Citibank, Capital One, Union Bank, Bank of Montreal, to name a few. Then there are those who used the colour orange as the new blue, like ING Bank and the new bank Tangerine.

It is no surprise financial institutions and many other brands use the colour of ‘true blue’ as it emotes feelings for trust and dependability. But, according to a study published in the Journal of Business Research, customers are actually 15% more likely to return to stores with blue colour schemes than to those with orange colour schemes. Try to tell ING Bank that the orange isn’t working for them as they turned a profit of 3.5 billion Euros in 2014.

The Birth of a Brand Colour

There has been a great deal of work done in the area of psychology of colour in branding. But, to me it’s like buying a house. You make the initial decision based on emotion and then you rationalize it after the fact to legitimize your purchase. The birth of a brand identity really starts with the logo design which is generally done by a graphic designer. Depending on your budget, you can employ a single individual of a massive agency team (Top 15 graphic design companies from around the globe) then it will depend on their ability to sell you on the colour.

My assumption with most start-up companies is that the brand logo design and its colour aren’t the biggest concerns of the day. It isn’t where they are investing or spending their time. Their biggest concern is focused on getting their product or service to market.

To believe they have the brand all figured-out would be a stretch. You might know where you want to go, but how you get there is not always in your control and that includes your brand. I am sure the college dropouts Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak, who started Apple Computers in Job’s garage, didn’t have a clear vision of where the Apple brand was going. Their first logo void of any colour could have easily been a Tolkien book cover (author of the famous The Lord of the Rings book series) than a company logo. The logo depicted Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with an apple dangling over his head. You know the rest of the gravity story.

History_of_Apple_LogoII

This logo survived only a year, but the company now had the funds to be able to commission a real graphic designer Rob Janoff. He designed the rainbow colour apple with a bite taken out of it. This logo lasted 22 years until 1997 when the colours were replaced with a more modern monochromatic sleek look. It is these redesigns and modernization of brands that the rationalization and supporting stories are developed alongside the million plus dollar price tag from the mega graphic design firms. It is interesting that as the Apple brand became more popular, myths began to be told about how the Apple brand came to be.

Starbucks started with a brown or mocha coloured logo of a siren (or mermaid) from Greek mythology, which made sense since they were selling rich dark-roast coffee by the cup in Seattle on the west coast. But, 15 years later the logo was refined and the colour changed to green. Why? It is believed the three founders wanted to honour their alum matter, the University of San Francisco, which happens to a similar green.

logo-evolution

There has been a great deal of research done to understand the effects of colour on consumer’s response. But Gergory Ciotti, marketing strategist at Help Scout, points out that there has been “numerous attempts to classify consumer responses to different individual colors… but the truth of the matter is that color is too dependent on personal experiences to be universally translated to specific feelings.” He goes on to explain that gender, background, and culture all play a role in how consumers are influenced by colour perceptions, but that doesn’t seem to stop the rationalizations.

STOP_SALE

If this is true why are all STOP signs and SALE signs red? According to a study published in the journal Emotion, Professor Andrew Elliot found that people react faster and more forcefully when they see the colour red, with the primary reason behind the phenomena being that the colour red enhances physical reactions as it is programmed into our psyche as a cue for danger.

A brand that has used the power of red successfully for over 128 years has been Coca-Cola, which sells about 19,400 beverages every second around the world. Like the SALE sign, Coca-Cola started advertising their brand by painting big red signs on the side of buildings and coolers. They continued on in the early 1900’s with outdoor billboards and traditional advertising. In 1931 they successfully tied their brand to the man in red – Old St. Nicholas. As the years passed, the colour red became synonymous with Coca-Cola. It required years and years of persistence and hardnosed application of the brand principles. As the brand developed over time, a process was developed to define and codify the brand values and its essence. In this process, the brand colour(s) also get encoded into the brands DNA.

white coke canII

In 2011, Coca-Cola slipped up by changing their sacred red Coke can to white during the December holiday season to celebrate their highly successful polar bear advertising campaign. Within weeks, the white “polar bear” cans were pulled off the shelves because of a tremendous backlash from retailers and consumers, who were confused by the change from the traditional red. Some even complained that the taste of the soda was different—all because of the colour of the can!

Getting the brand DNA right takes time and is built on what works for the brand’s customers, but once the brand colour is locked in you must be ruthless in protecting this relationship to a colour and what the brand represents.  Can you see a John Deere customer selecting the colour he wants for his tractor? It comes in green or green or green.

heinz-ez-squirt-275When you think of Heinz ketchup you automatically think of the tomato red coloured bottle. They had the opposite results from changing their red coloured bottle to green. The Heinz EZ Squirt Blastin’ Green ketchup was a phenomenal success. But, to be fair, they still had the red bottle for those customers who didn’t want to change. More than 10 million green bottles were sold in the first seven months following its introduction. All because of a simple colour change. I am not sure if the ketchup tasted better.

Colour is a powerful signifier of a brand. When customers visually scan store shelves, they look first at colour clues, then at shapes, and finally at the label or name of the brand. Research conducted by the Seoul International Color Expo 2004 found that 92.6% of customers put visual factors as most importance when purchasing products and the colour accounted for almost 50% as the important factor. The Institute for Color Research found that people make a subconscious judgement about an environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone!

The colour a company uses to brand itself conveys how trustworthy they are, the quality of their products, how fun they are and much more. So, you need to have the right colour to succeed.

Paul Bottomley and John Doyle authored a study: The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness where they demonstrated that the relationship between brands and colour are based on the perceived appropriateness of the colour being used and the particular brand personality you are trying to portray.

Does the colour fit what the brand represents? An obvious misfit would be the colour pick with a somber and serious lawyer firm brand or a funeral home. While the colour of pink might differentiate the brand, it might not built a solid brand message. Because there are so many brands today, it is getting harder and harder for new brands to build their own unique brand colour positioning, so they are pushing the limits of what is appropriate. In every business category, there is an outlier who isn’t following the colour code like Orange’s orange, T Mobile’s neon pink, Veuve Clicquot’s bright yellow, Yahoo’s purple, and BP’s lime green.

If you want your brand to be synonymous with a colour, you need to use your colour everywhere. The store environment or anywhere it makes sense. A fleet of planes painted orange with airline attends wearing orange uniforms (EasyJet), a fleet of brown delivery vans with drivers wearing brown uniforms (UPS), the tastefully accent colour of robin egg blue surrounding gold, silver and diamonds with the iconic blue box (Tiffany & Co), and flooding the exterior and the interior of the store and staff in yellow and red (Shell and McDonald’s). The colour is part of the brand experience.

I wonder how many brand colours were the results of the whims of the graphic designer exploring the next trend or the personal taste of the CEO’s spouse. In the case of Facebook, the founder Mark Zuckerberg is red-green colour blind so blue was his choice.

Well thought-out colours can help define a brand’s value, strength and positioning, which will boost awareness and customer recall and differentiate the brand from the competition. If chosen effectively, it can even set the emotional stage for the overall brand experience.

The right colour does matter.