Color is integral to branding. It is central to brand personalities, and it becomes a brand identifier over time if it is used in a consistent manner. Having an ownable brand color, especially within categories filled with similar products in expected color palettes, can help one brand stand out among many on the shelf.
Color might be woven into a distinctive brand identity. Think: The Home Depot, LEGO and Sesame Street. It might be featured in a brand icon like Twitter’s blue bird, Target’s bulls-eye or Monster’s neon-green claw marks. Where consumer product brands are concerned, it must go to the heart of package design strategy. Cadbury chocolate in royal purple, Coca-Cola classic in red, Philadelphia Cream Cheese in silver and Mattel’s Barbie in hot pink are good examples. But can color stand for a brand and all of its values and assets?
Consider the examples cited. Would the identities, icons or packages still be identifiable to a global audience if presented with the letters in each brand name scrambled? They would. That is the mark of the effective use of signature brand color.
BRANDING BY A SIGNATURE COLOR ON PACKAGING
It is known as Pantone 1837, an attractive robin’s egg blue, and it is trademarked by Tiffany & Co., the vaunted jewelry store based in New York. The color doesn’t show up on Pantone color charts because it is available for use only by Tiffany’s. Interesting tidbit: Pantone 1837 pays homage to the year of Tiffany’s founding.
Almost everyone around the world recognizes the signature Tiffany Blue Box (a descriptor that is likewise trademarked). The white ribbon wrapped around the package, tied without knots so that it falls open when tugged on, is another hallmark of Tiffany packaging. There’s only one slight packaging deviation: During the holidays, the package is tied with red ribbon rather than its token white.
The Tiffany & Co. embossed brand identity in Baskerville Old Face font is the only other thing found on the packaging. At this point in Tiffany’s history, many would argue that the brand identity isn’t even needed anymore. I disagree; it does serve a purpose — reaffirming the status, quality and desirability of the brand. Over time, the entire Tiffany’s experience, the brand and its values have come to be represented by “the blue box,” arguably the most desired package on the planet.
Yet all of this happens with packaging that comes at the end, after a purchase decision has been made. When an exquisite gift is wrapped in this manner, it satisfactorily concludes the experience of selecting the optimal jewelry item and emotionally reinforces buying the best. It also creates an aura of anticipation knowing how strong the reaction of the receiver of the Tiffany Blue Box will be.
What about packaging that has to do the actual selling in the midst of a myriad of choices?
THE IMPORTANCE OF EFFECTIVE COLOR USE IN PACKAGING
What turns consumers on to some brands over others? Actually seeing representations of these brands in an exciting visual manner does. Nothing can deliver more of a punch than packaging if it is done correctly. Packaging makes the brand concrete and invites consumer interaction if properly developed. To accomplish this, package structure, color, typography and imagery must work together to represent one brand and only one brand, to garner attention and make emotional connections in a matter of seconds.
Studies by psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University have shown that people recall 10 percent of what they hear and 20 percent of what they read, but they recall 80 percent of what they see. Additionally, marketing research found that a whopping 80 percent of the visual information that people take in is related to color. It is known that color has an immediate visual and emotional impact on us as people and consumers. Yet brands often choose colors to represent themselves without a great deal of deliberation, and then they package consumer products without doing the right kind of research. This is precisely what leads to brands running together on the shelf, indistinguishable from one another and therefore ignored by consumers.
It’s important to analyze the category in which the brand positions products — look at the competition within retail settings, and then determine how color can become a major differentiator. That’s how Axe/Lynx deodorant products stand out from everything else in their category. Stark black packaging along with the vertical silver Lynx brand identity and unique visuals pack a punch. It’s how the brilliant orange packaging in the candy aisle “belongs” to Reese’s and its peanut butter cup candies and bright yellow is “owned” by General Mills’ Cheerios in aisles crowded with cereal choices.
Signature brand color is important, but color alone doesn’t ensure success, does it? For consumers to identify a brand and its values as desirable after initial purchase, the user experience must be satisfactory at the least and exemplary at best, time and time again. That’s how brand leaders are born, become classics and appeal to generations of new consumers.
COLOR GONE WRONG: HOW NOT TO USE COLOR IN PACKAGING
Modern brands have been moving toward simplified packaging with less visual and verbal communication, but it is important to recognize that packaging can be stripped down to the point of owning great design while losing the brand from lack of distinction. It’s smart to pare package design elements down to what is truly necessary and important: the visual and verbal assets that truly speak for the brand. But taking away too much makes a brand look generic.
Color should play a dominant role, but it must be applied correctly. Some designers like the concept of cuing package color to the products they contain rather than developing an overarching signature brand color. However, that is actually segmentation, and it does nothing to sell the brand. If the brand isn’t identifiable in the first place, the products aren’t saleable. A signature color should stand for the brand; secondary color choices can then segment individual product choices and be cued to the product inside.
There are other pitfalls, too. White packaging is hot, since it can stand out rather starkly from the brands around it. Designers like it because it is sophisticated, contemporary and speaks to the purity of products, reassuring consumers of quality. It can also make brands appear generic. Be sure to consider the retail environment. If, for example, white packaging is used on a brand of ice cream novelties for kids, does it disappear in island freezers? Or if too similar to another brand with the same color packaging, does it confuse the consumer?
Developing brand color palettes and package design systems without consideration of retail context is a big mistake. Style guides are essential. Supplying retailers with merchandising ideas and planograms is advisable, especially for licensed brands since they are merchandised throughout retail stores and not within one location. These are the tools that will not only make products highly visible on the shelf but also assist in selling it through to the consumer.
THE SEQUENCE FOR CONSUMERS SCANNING THE RETAIL SHELF
Consumers see the brand. It stands out due to its signature color. They immediately identify the assets associated with the brand in a rational manner. Simultaneously, they experience specific emotions in which color is a major contributor. Research bears out emotions, not rational thought, drive purchase decisions.
The consumer picks up the package and selectively reads chosen verbal brand communication. It doesn’t sell product features. It sells the emotional benefits that the brand promises. Consumers might spend a few more seconds to scan the brand story. This contributes to a sense of confidence that the brand will deliver. Now, which variety? Additional color on a cap or primary display panel is cued to the variety properly segmenting the product line. After the initial purchase, the satisfied consumer comes back to the shelf and is able to quickly identify the product that they want because of the signature brand color and then the segmentation color of their favorite variety. Let’s extrapolate: That means that everything else around that brand goes virtually unseen.
ADVICE ON IMPLEMENTING COLOR
When deliberating about color, look at the personality of the brand; choose color to express it in a visual manner, and then consider how to apply it. Next, consider the competition; look at the usual palettes within the category on the shelf. Choose to stand apart not only with signature color but also with unique package structure, fonts and imagery. Make sure that it works in retail environments. Show how secondary color can be used to segment the branded product line. Develop a verbal communication hierarchy that includes the brand story. Implement a style guide to ensure consistency in present and future packaging. Demonstrate ideas on how to accommodate future line extensions that may occur in totally different categories, which is especially crucial for licensed properties.
As long as the brand delivers on its promise, consumers will look for it — where the first and most compelling identifier is its signature color.