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Color Branding | Keep It in the Red

By Michael Dula

Color theory principles have come a long way since first appearing in the writings of Leone Battista Alberti and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Color is a vital asset in brand creation and it’s one of the most important components in creating a brand identity system. It has the power to create order and trigger attention, and thus dramatically increase brand recognition.

Vision is one of the primary sensory sources for how we experience the world around us. As considerable research has shown, colors actually affect our state of mind and cognitive reactions. Color makes a significant impact on our emotional states. It can instantly engage the viewer, unite employees, and make direct connections with the people who touch your brand. Color can ‘abet’ success and is used to forge connections with particular audiences.

Choosing color that is appropriate to an audience is a critical step for visual brand identity. But what’s appropriate? Color choice may mean going against the norm. Or it can be a way to achieve a level of distinctiveness or a way to convey a unique brand persona that resonates with the audience the brand strives to touch. So the ‘rules’ a brand follows may be predicated on the rules of the psychology of color.

Consider the power of just a single color: Red.

What links speed, power and the color red? Hint: it’s not a sports car. It’s your muscles. A new study, published in the journal Emotion, finds that when humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful. And people are unaware of the color’s intensifying effect. After analyzing the results in the 2004 Olympics, researchers found that red means dominance. Athletes wearing red prevailed more often than those wearing blue, especially in hand-to-hand sports like wrestling.

Pantone®, the world-renowned authority on color, tells us that people will actually gamble more and make riskier bets when seated under a red light as opposed to a blue light. That’s why Las Vegas is the city of red neon.

And, red is one of the most common colors used on national flags.

And, red immediately connects us to certain brands. Think about Christian Louboutin, the French footwear designer. Since 1992, the footwear has incorporated shiny, red-lacquered soles that have become his signature.

Interestingly, even as a name, ‘Red’ has made a difference in fighting aids. Project Red, founded in 2006 by U2 front man and activist Bono Vox and Bobby Shriver, is a brand licensed to partner companies such as Nike, American Express (UK), Apple Inc., Starbucks, and Converse, to engage the private sector in raising awareness and funds to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. (RED) is the largest private sector donor to the Global Fund, and has generated over $150 million for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa.

All things considered, color is a powerful tool in the brand designer’s arsenal of forms. Color can be a bearer of cultural meaning; a spur to action; an organizer of information; a stimulus to eliciting emotions; and a spur to thought. In a word, to see color as mere decoration in design is to miss the point…entirely.