Tata group brand custodian Harish Bhat talks about what colours mean to consumers and why they are of significance

We interact with a number of brands in our daily lives. Most of these brands sport a trademark colour, by which they are easily recognised. For instance, we recognise Colgate toothpaste by its red colour, brand Tata by its blue and Himalayan water by its unique pink. Pause for a moment and think of the brands you use. What colours do you associate with each of these brands and what do these colours mean to you?

Harish Bhat is brand custodian, Tata Sons. He is a curious marketer and an avid writer.

This is a very interesting area of exploration in consumer space — how colours in product, retail or corporate brands impact the minds of consumers. Colours play an important role in enhancing brand equity. Studies show that association with specific colours increases brand recognition significantly. In addition, the consistent use of impactful colours also helps differentiate brands from their competitors. Think of Tata Tea and Red Label Tea. One is green, the other is red, and this makes both brands easy to spot.

But apart from easy visual recognition and differentiation, do brand colours have a deeper psychological impact on consumers? The answer is yes. For instance, the colour pink may be quite appropriate for a brand of women’s cosmetics, but is unlikely to be a good idea for a brand of motorcycles. Similarly, for best results, there should be a fit between a brand’s core idea and the associations that its colour evokes. A brand whose proposition rests on energy should use a colour like red that radiates energy, rather than a colour such as light blue, which does not.

Here is a walk through the psychology of some major colours. These thoughts are based on my own experience as a curious marketer, as well as my observations and readings.

BLUE

Blue primarily conveys trust and security. That is precisely why so many large banks and reputed businesses built on the foundation of trust use this colour. To illustrate: State Bank of India, Tata, Life Insurance Corporation of India, IBM (also called the Big Blue), GE, Intel, etc. Also, notice how many uniforms are blue in colour, for the same reason.

RED

Red, on the other hand, conveys strength and energy. Hence, brands of strong dust teas in south India such as 3 Roses (from Unilever) and Chakra Gold (from Tata) tend to sport bright red colours. It is also the colour of excitement, urgency and hunger. This perhaps explains why many exciting brands of fast food such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC use red liberally. This is also the reason why most consumer discount offers, where creating urgency is an imperative, are highlighted in red. However, since red is used by so many brands today, it is very challenging for a new or relatively unknown brand to make a difference by sporting the colour.

GREEN

Green is the colour of nature, hence it cues natural, fresh or organic products. Therefore, in contrast to strong dust teas which are branded red, brands of tea which emphasise freshness are typically branded green, for example, Tata Tea and Taaza. For the same reason, several Indian brands of food products such as Safal and Aashirvaad include prominent green leaves in their brand logos. When one of the world’s most famous brand of detergents, Tide, launched its ‘naturals’ version a few years ago, the colour used for branding and packaging was naturally green.

ORANGE

Orange has been called the most flamboyant colour known to man. It conveys youth, aggression and a call to action. It is also viewed as a new-age colour, hot and cool at the same time. Titan Company has, therefore, used this colour for its youth brand Fastrack. Relatively few brands use orange today, hence there is significant space in several categories for challenger brands to make an impact.

YELLOW

Yellow is the colour of the sun, and evokes daylight, happiness and optimism. These are universally desirable values, therefore we find many brands that use yellow. Maggi Noodles and Amul Butter are two Indian examples that come readily to mind. Yellow is also used very effectively in combination with red by several brands of snacks and foods to create an appealing blend of energy and happiness. Retail brands use yellow extensively on their store fronts for a different reason — it has been proven repeatedly that yellow grabs the attention of window shoppers.

PINK

Pink in its conventional avatar connotes romance and feminity, so it is used extensively by brands of feminine perfumes, cosmetics and accessories. Pink is also the colour of babies and gentle feelings, and hence is a natural choice for baby brands such as Johnson & Johnson. Adult male brands have traditionally tended to keep away from pink. But all this is changing fast. In recent years, pink has emerged as a cool colour which conveys new-age values to young consumers. Himalayan water has used pink successfully to differentiate itself from others. Because pink is used by very few brands today, it can also serve as an immediate differentiator. There is a lot of opportunity in pink.

BLACK

Black is a contentious colour. To many consumers, it is powerful, sleek, the epitome of pure luxury and authority. This is particularly the case with lifestyle categories such as liquor, watches, perfumes, cars and similar accessories. Therefore, luxury brands which also convey authority such as BMW, Mont Blanc, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton and Prada use black. On the other hand, black is also viewed by several consumers as being inauspicious. This is particularly the case with the large Indian middle class. Therefore, several mid-market brands steer clear of this impactful colour.

Many iconic brands have used these psychological moorings of colours to great effect. As a consumer, do reflect on what brand colours mean to you and please do write in to me (bhatharish@hotmail.com) with your own thoughts on colours and brands. I look forward to your views, in black and white!