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The rainbow connection

How color affects the way brands are perceived

School of Business, wants to put empirical research behind it. Specifically, how do people react to certain colors as they are used in marketing? Labrecque, who specializes in digital market-

F Labrecque

ing, but has a background in graphic design, wanted to find out how brands could use color as a cue for their brand personality. “Colors have meanings and elicit emotions.

For example, blue is thought to reflect compe- tence and stability,” she says. “For this reason, most bank logos are blue.” According to Labrecque’s

research, neuroscientists have found evidence that some reactions to color are present at birth and consistent across cultures. “Evolutionarily, there are colors we react to,” Labrecque says. “Red means

blood, which means danger. Subjects put in a red room respond with a higher blood pressure and other physiological changes compared to subjects in a blue room.” Other responses are learned—for example,

using pink and blue to distinguish gender speci- fications. “There’s nothing innate that makes pink for girls,” Labrecque says. “But everyone knows that’s what it indicates.” Labrecque’s research looked not only at hue,

but at saturation and value—that is, how vivid a color is and how light or dark. “Saturation and value were just as strong if not stronger than hue,” she says.

eeling blue? Seeing red? The psychol- ogy of colors is part of our vocabu- lary. But Lauren Labrecque, PhD, assistant professor in the Quinlan

Highly saturated (vivid) colors increase

arousal, while high-value colors (including more white than black—like pastels) are associated with calmness. In one study, Labrecque and co-researcher

George Milne mocked up two packages for the same consumer product. One package had a low-saturation, high-value purple hue (pastel lavender), and one a high-saturation, low-value red hue (brick red). As hypothesized, respon- dents viewed the purple product as more sophisticated (classy, attractive, and refined), and the red product as more rugged (durable, strong, and well built). Labrecque also analyzed 281 logo colors

based on what product category a brand was in, and how the colors differentiated brands from their competitors. She found that while color differentiation is helpful for some product categories, it can be harmful for others. Specifi- cally, “If there’s a market leader, it matters if you differentiate from it,” Labrecque says. “Most colas use red because of Coca-Cola.” If a brand has enough equity, however, it can

benefit from differentiation from the market leader. For example, Pepsi uses blue (as well as red) to set it apart from Coca-Cola. Most accounting firms are branded blue, but PwC switched its logo to a warmer palette (yellows, oranges, reds) in order to stand out. This year, a Google executive credited an

extra $200 million a year in revenue to chang- ing the shade of blue used in advertising links. Although ascertaining how and why consumers respond to colors the way they do is compli- cated, Labrecque believes that, with further research, brands will more successfully be able to use color to craft their brand identities.


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