Is your brand looking off colour?

Colour can be crucial to the consistency and relevancy of your message. SEAN ADAMS

Sean Adams

By Sean Adams

In a recent high profile court case, Cadbury attempted to stop competitor Darrell Lea from using the colour purple for the packaging of its products. 

Cadbury claimed that consumers associated their products with the colour purple and that Darrell Lea was therefore engaging in “misleading and deceptive conduct” in using a similar colour.

The case was dismissed (although it is currently pending appeal), but it did get me thinking about the role of colour as a branding device.

In some categories, certain brands are seen to ‘”own” particular colours. Try this simple exercise to prove the point.

Which bank do you associate with the following colours? …….Red? …..Blue? …..Yellow? …Orange?

Pretty easy eh? And that is without me even showing you the colours.

So why is this the case? Why are we instantly able to conjuer up the names of Westpac, ANZ, Commonwealth and ING?

I think there are two key reasons – consistency and relevance.

In terms of consistency, these organisations have not only used these colours for a very long time, but they also use them across every piece of communication.

Furthermore, they are also using strong, bold, familiar colours that somehow seem appropriate to an institution which we entrust to look after our money.

Would you feel the same about a bank that presents itself in tan or lilac? Probably not.

Colour can be an enormously powerful means of altering a mood.

We see it in the way we dress. We see it in the way we decorate our homes. We see it in the cars we drive.

In many cases, the difference in effect between red and blue, between green and yellow, between black and white, is immense. It can be the difference between getting it right and getting it wrong.

Paint companies have turned colour into a science, while interior designers and colour consultants have made a living out of it.

The relevance of this topic to brands is potentially huge.

Brands need to stand out from their competition. They need to be easily recognised. They need to create the right mood in the hearts and minds of their consumers. Colour can play a major role in achieving this. So how well is your brand using colour to its advantage?

Answer these questions and you will have a better idea:

  • Does your brand have a dominant colour that it uses consistently across all aspects of its communications?
  • Has it been using the same colour consistently over time?
  • How distinctive is this colour in the category in which your brand is competing?
  • Is this colour associated with any particular emotional values?
  • How relevant are these emotional values to your category?

If your brand doesn’t perform too well in this impromptu “colour audit”, I’m not necessarily suggesting you change your logo overnight – but I am saying that you may be missing an opportunity for your brand to show its true colours (as long as it’s not purple).



Sean Adams founded his marketing advisory company The Seed in late 2000. Sean has had nearly 20 years advertising experience in Australia and Britain across a range of disciplines – research, planning, account management and media. Over that time he has worked with some of the world’s top advertising agencies, working with many of the world’s leading brands.


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