Hue and cry

Colour is so integral to brands that many of them see red when others step on their toes. But branding should work from the inside out, says Jim Davies.

Colour is so integral to brands that many of them see red when others step on their toes. But branding should work from the inside out, says Jim Davies

Pick a colour. Any colour. No, not that one, that’s mine, I own it.

Colour has become such a key part of contemporary branding that it is fiercely protected. Many companies feel so strongly about their association with a particular shade that they’ll fight tooth and nail-polish to defend it.

The AA, for example, has exclusive rights to the dependable Pantone yellow number 109 for its recovery and repair vehicles right across the land. Transport for London has registered the cuddly, quintessentially British Pantone red number 485 for its buses.

But, for some reason, there is the most hoo-ha surrounding the colour orange. Surprising, perhaps, given that this is the colour of Buddhist robes and the national hue of the most laid-back nation on Earth, the Netherlands. In the corporate jungle, however, orange is not so much the symbol of joy, creativity and sexual satisfaction, as poisonous looks, argy-bargy and law suits at dawn.

Industrial strength drain-flusher Dyno-Rod was quick to trademark their brash, see-me-coming DynoGlo™ fluorescent orange, and have taken companies who appropriate it for their liveries to court. Just ask Roger Moody of the small Sheffield glazing firm Glass & Glazing, who, back in 1999, was asked to respray his vans and even hand over his natty orange jumper and tie.

Meanwhile, mobile phone operator Orange and Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s expansive easyGroup are locking horns over the use of the colour. Though easyGroup have used Pantone orange 021 across their branding for years, they only ventured into the mobile phone market a year ago with easyMobile. Orange clearly feel that their toes are being stepped on, and even though their orange is a more subtle Pantone 151, that there may still be cause for confusion.

It’s not the first time there have been two mobile phone operators sporting the same colour of course. When Virgin Mobile entered the fray in 1999, Vodafone were already established players, though apparently they didn’t see red about another pretender with a similar dress code. But the difference is that, for Orange, orange is far more than a mere colour. It’s the very essence of the brand bound up in its name, its outlook and the majority of its communications.

For most brands, however, colour schemes aren’t such a critical piece of intellectual property. Sure, there’s usually a rationale behind them. They may be chosen to create differentiation, reflect fashion, personal taste or perhaps make a point. For an ecology-conscious company, it makes sense to go with green, brown or natural tones, in the West, at least. In China, however, you should give green a really wide berth – a ‘green hat’ is the sign of a cuckolded husband and, as a result, green packaging has proved less than popular.

But, ultimately, the power of a colour, like the power of a name, works from the inside out. If your product or service is strong and distinctive enough in the first place, your values become reflected in that colour, rather than the other way round. And, while it’s always worth understanding the colour conventions of a particular sector or culture, going against the grain shows confidence and will help you stand out from the crowd.

As for me, I’m delighted to be taking delivery of my fine new stationery in the next week or so. You can’t miss it – it’s a dazzling day-glo orange. Let’s just hope that no one out there minds too much.

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