Under the Influence

Colour Schemes: How Colours Make Us Buy

In the world of marketing, the use of colour is a studied science. Colours play a bigger role in your purchasing decisions than you may think, because colours...

In the world of marketing, the use of colour is a studied science. Colours play a bigger role in your purchasing decisions than you may think, because colours have a secret language. A colour can make you feel a certain way about a company, or it can trigger a specific desire. A simple change in colours can affect the sales of a product immediately, or a certain colour can make us seem more desirable to the opposite sex. Colours can even encourage us to spend money - or even gamble. 

Join us this for this encore airing, as we explore the way colours make us buy.  See all the visual elements that complement this week's episode below:sgt pepper cover.jpg

The cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band is arguably the most famous of all time.

The concept of the album had the Fab Four pretending to be another band. As McCartney put it, at that point, the four lads were simply tired of being The Beatles.

They hired pop artist Peter Blake to create the cover. Lennon and McCartney told him to imagine the Sgt. Pepper band had just finished a concert in a park. Blake asked them to make a list of all the people they would like to have at this imaginary concert. 

So the Beatles gave him a detailed list of personalities, ranging from Bob Dylan and W.C. Fields, to Marlon Brando, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and boxer Sonny Liston.

It took Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth two weeks to create the montage in the studio. It was an intricate collage of over 70 celebrities, and it is said to have cost 100 times more than any regular cover did at that time.

Next came Magical Mystery Tour, with its elaborate cover and booklet, then the Beatles put out a double album. There were high expectations. Not just for the music, but for the cover art. So the Beatles did what they always did - they broke new ground.

They simply put out an album that was... all-white.

Front and back.


While it was officially called "The Beatles" - the album has been universally re-christened as "The White Album."

Many cite this album as the beginning of the end for the Beatles. The fact they weren't photographed as a group was telling, their manager had just died, there was disharmony in the studio, and many felt the 30 tracks were really a collection of solo songs.

As a result, the colour white was analyzed repeatedly as people looked for clues. Many historians have interpreted as it as wiping the board clean. The Fab Four, as we knew them, would be no more from that point on.

Interpreting colours is an interesting science.

In the world of marketing, colours play a bigger role in your purchasing decisions than you may think.

Colours have long been a battleground in marketing.

For the first 100 years of modern branding, you could not trademark a colour. But all that changed once and for all - thanks to insulation.

Owens-Corning began making Fiberglas insulation in 1938. When insulation is manufactured, it is white. So after many years of all insulation looking alike, Owens-Corning made the decision to dye their product red in 1956.

But the red dye made the Fiberglas wool look pink.

Fiberglas Pink.jpgSource:usedvictoria.com

The pink insulation was shipped out, but the company wasn't happy with the colour. So Owens-Corning abandoned pink and went back to the original colour. Then they got the most unexpected response:

Installers began asking for the PINK insulation.

So the company stuck with PINK. It was a marketing master stroke.

In 1987, Owens-Corning made legal history when it became the first company to trademark a single colour. They had proved to the courts that their insulation was clearly identified as pink, they had spent over $50 million dollars marketing it as such, and they had even licensed the Pink Panther as a mascot.

Pink Panther.jpgSource: Owens Corning

Hence, the courts agreed it was a protectable trademark.

When I worked on the advertising for Fiberglas Canada in the 80s, it claimed over 70% of the Canadian market due in large part to funny commercials like this:

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

Here's a two-part look at the making of a Fiberglas Pink commercial that the CBC Journal did back in the mid-80s. Yes, that's me with hair.

Part One:

Source: YouTube

Part Two:

Source: YouTube

I'll never forget the challenge our Fiberglas client, Grant McDiarmaid, put to us. He said: "I sell the most boring product in the world, make me famous."

And by leveraging nothing other than that counter-intuitive colour - we did.

In order for the courts to grant a colour trademark, a company must prove their colour has acquired a secondary meaning. The robin's egg blue Tiffany boxes are a great case-in-point. That blue now immediately signals Tiffany as a brand to a large percentage of the population. 

Tiffany box.jpgSource:Tiffany & Co

But the trademarking of colours has hit a speed bump, due to a court case going on right now between two famous fashion designers.

Upscale designer Christian Louboutin is famous for his glamorous shoe designs that cost anywhere from $400 to $4,000 dollars.

His shoes all have one distinguishing feature - a bright red sole:

christian-louboutin-shoes-.gifSource: Christian Louboutin

Back in 1992, Louboutin saw an assistant painting her nails a bright red, and he decided to try lacquering the soles of his shoes the same shade. The bright red sole became a sensation, and a symbol of the Louboutin brand. 

In 2008, he obtained a US Patent and Trademark for his signature red soles. But three years later, Yves St. Laurent came out with red soled shoes, as well.

Yves St. Laurent.jpgSource: strategicrevolution.com

Louboutin immediately sued.

It's an interesting case. The question became - should anyone in the fashion industry be given a monopoly on a single colour? Can one designer own the colour red?

The courts ended up siding with the Yves St. Laurent company, allowing them to continue selling red-soled shoes. Tiffany's rushed to Louboutin's defense, as this ruling would have implications for their famous blue boxes.

As of this writing, Louboutin has appealed the decision.

When it comes to the subject of persuasion, each colour carries very specific meanings.

Take the colour Red. It is one of the most passionate colours. It connotes action, adventure, fire, lust, anger, courage and rebellion, for example.

Therefore, it is a colour best used for action-oriented products and brands. Red, for example, is the predominant colour in the Virgin logo - which is perfect for that brand, as founder Richard Branson is definitely adventurous and rebellious.

Virgin logo.jpgSource: Virgin Group

Blue stands for security, trust, productivity and calmness of mind. As a result, blue is the colour of choice for UN flag.

U.N. Flag.gif

It's also the most popular logo colour in the corporate world. Think of the Allstate logo, who want you to feel you are in good hands. 

Allstate logo.jpgSource: AllState Insurance

Or IBM, often called "Big Blue."

ibm logo.pngSource: IBM

Blue is often cited as the most popular colour in the world. Six of the top ten colours of Crayola crayons are shades of blue, as a matter of fact. 

crayons blue.jpgSource:svtperformance.com

Orange is a colour that suggests value and discounts. Online bank ING has branded itself as orange, no doubt, in part, to remind you of their promise of reduced banking fees.  ING Logo.jpgSource: ING Direct

The Home Depot has an orange logo and theme, as does Payless Shoes - both built on a premise of value.

Home Depot logo.jpgSource: The Home Depot

Payless Shoes logo.jpgSource: Payless Shoes

Green represents freshness. Think the Jolly Green Giant and Subway. 

Jolly Green Giant.jpgSource: Green Giant

subway-logo.jpgSource: Subway

Green is also about revitalization, and is one reason why the Starbucks logo is this colour - it wants to be the place where you can renew yourself. 

Starbucks logo.jpgSource: Starbucks

Green is the colour of choice for companies associated with health and wellness, and eco-friendly products.

For centuries, purple symbolized nobility and wealth. 


In Elizabethan times, it was an offence to wear it if your address didn't have a moat around it.

Queen Elizabeth purple.gifSource: Mandysroyalty.com

Its attachment to luxury can also be traced back to the fact purple dye was very costly to manufacture back then. It allegedly took over ten thousand molluscs to make one gram.

Cadbury chocolate has been associated with purple for over 100 years. It was Queen Victoria's favourite colour.

Queen Victoria purple.jpgSource: History.uk.co

It's believed the Cadbury brothers chose it as a tribute to her. Recently, Cadbury won a fight against Nestle to trademark purple in the U.K.

cadburys wrappers.jpgSource: Newsfeed.time.com

The colour Brown is earthy, and contains feelings of honesty and dependability. UPS began using brown in 1916 -because in the world of package delivery, the name of the game is dependability.

ups-logo.jpgSource: UPS

Yellow stands for sunny warmth, cheeriness, fun and optimism. Black is really the absence of all colour, but is a colour of authority, power and luxury.

White has a feeling of lightness, and is the reason why most planes are painted this colour. It soothes the concern we all secretly harbour that a machine that size can't possibly become airborne.

White Airplane.jpgSource: ec.europa.eu

White is the number one colour in automobiles this year. Pearl white is number two.

White cars.jpgSource: life.com

Many companies combine colours to provoke responses.

Red and Orange are colours that boost appetite. So that's why you see red in so many fast food restaurants. The McDonald's logo is red and yellow - red stimulates appetite, yellow means fun. McDonald's is a place where you can eat and have fun.

McDonald's logo.jpgSource: McDonalds Corporation

Blue, by the way, is thought to suppress appetite, because there are very few blue foods - which is why so many restaurants avoid the colour. Weight-loss plans even suggest painting your dining room blue or using blue plates, so you'll eat less.

Amazon.com has an interesting logo - the word Amazon is in black, suggesting authority, and a yellow arrow goes from the A in Amazon and points to the Z - meaning you'll have fun finding everything from A to Z.

Amazon logo.jpgSource: Amazon

The Google logo uses a combination of blue, red and yellow, symbolizing trust, adventure and fun. But it also has a lime green "L" - which Google threw in there to suggest they break the rules.

google-logo.jpgSource: Google

Colours have a remarkable influence on us physically, too.

A green colour scheme in a workplace has shown evidence that it results in less absenteeism due to illness.

Workers at a certain factory complained that the black boxes they had to lift were too heavy. So the boxes were re-painted mint green. The load didn't change, but the workers were happier.

At another company, people working in a blue room complained the office was too cold. When the walls were painted a warm peach, sweaters came off, even though the temperature had not changed.

People will gamble and make riskier decisions if surrounded by the colour red. Guess what the dominant colour of Las Vegas is?

In one of the more interesting uses of colour psychology, the football coach at the University of Iowa had the visitor's locker room painted pink. Why? To reduce their aggression.

It should come as no surprise that colour affects purchasing decisions.

A hot dog restaurant chain with 350 locations in the U.S. added orange to their locations, to convey the idea of "inexpensive" food, and sales increased 7% immediately.

Xerox changed their logo from a stately blue to red recently for a very strategic reason. They wanted to signal to people that they weren't just a traditional copier company anymore, but are, in fact, are a diversified technology company that offers printers, scanners, faxes and imaging equipment. Red suggests action.

Xerox logo.jpgSource: Xerox Corp

In 1940, the President of American Tobacco, George Washington Hill (incorrectly referred to as George Roy Hill in the broadcast - apologies), burst into the office of famous graphic designer Raymond Loewy and threw a package of Lucky Strikes down on his desk. 

George Washington Hill.jpg

George Washington Hill
Source: geh.org

Hill said to Loewy, "Someone said you could design a better pack, but I don't believe it."

Loewy said, "I bet I can."

Raymond Loewy.jpg

Raymond Loewy

Source: raymondloewy.com

George Washington Hill said, "How much?"

So they bet $50,000 that Loewy couldn't improve the Lucky Strike package.

One month later, Loewy returned with a completely new colour scheme.

He changed the old green pack to a shiny white colour. That one change alone did two things: It made the pack instantly more attractive to women, and it was cheaper to print.

Lucky Strike.jpgSource: raymondloewy.com

Loewy also made one other ingenious decision. On the original pack, the red logo only appeared on one side. Loewy put it on both, so the brand name would be seen twice as often.

Sales of Lucky Strike surged.

That design would remain for the next 40 years.

And George Washington Hill happily wrote a cheque to Raymond Loewy for $50,000.

Colour is a silent salesperson.

The use of colour in marketing is a studied science. When you see colours in a sign, or a logo, or in a store's colour theme, it is not just a designer's whim.

The colours are carefully chosen to underscore a company's image, or to stimulate positive feelings that can lead to a purchase.

It is the main reason why companies trademark colours - although the ability to do that is currently balancing on a red stiletto. 

Colours have a secret language.

That's why it doesn't matter, nor should it matter, if a marketer personally likes a colour or not.

That's not the point in the higher realm of marketing. The question isn't is the White Album white enough.

The real question is - what is the colour of money...

...when you're under the influence. 


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