Archive for the ‘Colour’ Category

Storytelling Through Brands.

What’s it all about?

Brands tell stories. It doesn’t happen overnight but over time certain brands become bigger and permeate our lives to the point where they become part of our culture. It might be that they fill a gap in the market, gain international status, market themselves so intensely and cleverly that we simply cannot ignore then, or maybe they simply have a kick-ass product or service that everyone desires.

One thing is for sure though, most have grown from humble beginnings.

I’m not talking about your average company here, I’m talking about the powerhouses that we recognise just by catching a glimpse of part of their logo, or the sort of company that you can almost guarantee to find no matter where in the world you might be. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Sony, Tesco, Heinz, Apple, Google, Marks and Spencer e al.  All have iconic logos and brands that we recognise, usually trust, and often choose over rival products.

Markets are saturated these days. There are dozens of choices of brands and the company’s that stand out from the crowd are not always the best ones, but the ones that make the most noise and tell the right story.

How do brands tell stories?

It’s all about building blocks and bringing together several strands. Let’s break it down:

  • Values
    Any successful brand will be born out of carefully chosen values. They may not be explicitly written on the product or marketing material but chances are the company will have thought of a mission statement and values that they want their company to represent. They may not always live up to the values either, but they are idealistic and help to sculpt the brand and story. These values underpin everything that follows.


    Common brand values include trustworthy, reliable, honest, and open.

  • Logo
    A good logo can make or break a company. Despite our lives being bombarded with choices we can still recognise one company over another just from their logo. The old saying tells us that a picture paints a thousand words and never is this more true than in relation to branding. If we spot a logo that we recognise then we will associate that with our experiences, knowledge and expectations from that company.


    The best way to demonstrate the power of logos is to look at some:




  • Of course these are the logos for Twitter, Starbucks and Google. Let’s take the Starbucks logo. When I see this I know I will get a comfy warm setting in which to sip my tasty warm coffee whilst chatting to friends. For me the Starbucks story is all about meeting friends and catching up over a coffee, or having an informal work meeting, or grabbing a coffee whilst on the go. I know what I will get and I only need to see a hint of that green logo in order for that to be communicated to me.
  • Strapline/Slogan
    The short snappy text that anchors your logo adds to your story. In fact if it is written in a certain way, the slogan can be the story just in very short form.


    Again, this sort of speaks for itself so let’s look at some examples and think about the story they are both telling and contributing to:

    • Orange – The future’s bright, the future’s Orange
    • Apple – Think Different
    • Tesco – Every little helps
    • Nike – Just do it
    • British Telecom – It’s good to talk
    • Cadbury Milk Tray – And all because the lady loved Milk Tray
    • Carlsberg – Probably the best lager in the world
    • KFC – Finger lickin good
  • Colour
    As I have previously discussed on my blog, colours have hidden meanings and connote certain values and messages. Yellow is associated with happiness, blue can be calm and cool, green often has links to nature and red can connote love, passion or danger. That said, the dominant colour of a brand is important in telling the right story. For example, if your brand values are all about being environmentally aware then this might best be communicated through green.
  • Marketing
    A crucial element to building any brand and one that can fail spectacularly. With today’s technology, we can tweet about adverts, share opinions on a product or company, and audiences seem to have more influence now than ever before. When it comes to marketing though, you just can’t beat a good idea!


    It is important to remember that just because everyone knows your story (in the case of the big brands), it doesn’t mean you should stop telling the story. There are always new audiences waiting to be discovered and new ways of telling the same story.

    Successful marketing campaigns are the ones that people talk about long after the advert has finished. The format and content of the marketing will add to the brand story. If you want to promote yourselves as being relaxed, approachable and fun to work with then make sure this is clear in your marketing campaigns.

  • Story
    There has to be a story to tell. Whether that be how a small coffee house in Seattle became one of the most recognisable brands of today, or how two men added a special waffle pattern to his shoes to help him run faster, naming the shoe after a Greek goddess, the shoe became and still is a worldwide success (Nike).


    But how you tell the story is almost more important than the story that is being told. Cue the case study.

I’ve got a golden ticket!

Yesterday I visited Cadbury World in Birmingham. This was an interesting couple of hours, not only from a chocolate loving perspective, but from a brand and marketing stance.

The first thing of note was the colour. Everywhere I looked purple was staring back at me. From the big sign on the way in, to the handrails around the factory, the wrappers of the chocolate to the uniforms of the staff. Purple is Cadbury and Cadbury is purple!

Logo 1

Logo 2

Logo 3

It takes a long time for a brand to be so successful that a single colour can remind us of it. Here is a surmised Cadbury timeline:

  • 1824 – John Cadbury opened his first grocer shop
  • 1866 – Cadbury start to sell Cocoa Essence
  • 1897 – The first milk chocolate for eating was launched
  • 1905 – Cadbury Dairy Milk is born
  • 1915 – Milk Tray make their debut
  • 1928 – The glass and a half logo is used for the first time
  • 2003 – Cadbury become the world’s number 1 confectionary company

Ok so a lot of hard work happened between 1928 and 2003 but as you can see, Cadbury have been around for a lot longer than anyone reading this blog post! That means we have known their products, logo and brand for all of our lives and as purple is the consistent colour across all their marketing and advertising it is no wonder that the association between purple and Cadbury is an easy one to make.

The significance of purple.

I don’t expect that when the branding for Cadbury was being decided, there were many in depth conversations around the connotations of colour, yet it is significant nowadays.

In the western world, purple is a colour that is said to represent luxury, royalty, the finer things in life, and even wizardry. These are pretty good values to market chocolate as. It is often seen as being an indulgence, a luxury, a treat, and the packaging that the chocolate arrives in reinforces this belief.

As purple represents these values and Cadbury use purple as their dominant brand colour, then Cadbury are associated with these values too. In that case, we are more likely to see Cadbury as being luxurious and indulgent than we are the colour purple (as we don’t often stop to think about hidden meanings in colour) and that in turn reinforces the idea that purple is a colour of luxury and indulgence, and so the cycle continues.

Of course this is all helped by other elements such as the style in which Cadbury is written and the fact that chocolate for many people is the absolute meaning of life!

Appealing to the masses.

The second thing of note was the crowds. There were literally hundreds, if not well over a thousand, visitors. What is it that draws people to Cadbury World in such high numbers?

It undoubtedly has to be two main reasons. 1, people love chocolate, and 2, the Cadbury story.

Cadbury have one strong advantage to play with and that is the wonderment of making chocolate. Books and films have romanticised what is in reality, a rather dull production process. But we can’t help but be curious about what magic is happening behind the imposing factory gates that so many average joe’s get to pass through.

The other strength for Cadbury is the fact that it is so old. There is something inside us that jumps for joy when we reminisce and look back to days gone by. Cadbury World plays on the nostalgia at every opportunity, retro posters of their packaging, videos of the past adverts, and indeed the history and story of the company are constantly made visual during a visit there.

Telling the story … again … and again … and again …

When it comes to marketing, Cadbury could teach us all a thing or two. They could probably get away with never airing another advert again. But they do. And they work on so many levels.

They work because they are creative and just when we think we know all about Cadbury, they surprise us and get us all talking again. It’s the same old story but repackaged. There is a whole section in the Cadbury World experience that is dedicated to their adverts.

I was fondly reminded (there’s the nostalgic thing again) of the “everyone’s a fruit and nut case” advert, the “a finger of fudge is just enough” song, the Cadbury sponsorship of Coronation Street, the rollercoaster advert for Crunchie that looked like it was made of chocolate, and more recently, these two:

Quite what they have to do with chocolate I don’t know. They have been spoofed, recreated and written about countless times though. Cadbury is still making positive headlines almost 200 years after they first set-up shop.

Listening to the audience.

Despite their global dominance Cadbury are still able to listen to their audience. This should never be underestimated. People set up Facebook groups and led a campaign to bring back the Wispa chocolate bar. They succeeded.

Consumers spoke and Cadbury listened, shining yet another positive light onto the company and adding a new chapter to their story.

Quite where the Cadbury story will end I don’t know. I guess the key thing is that they refuse to be silent. They have worked hard to grow and create a brand that has now become part of our culture. They also seem intent on retaining this position and are always thinking of new ways to achieve this. Whether you like chocolate or not, there is no denying that Cadbury have created a brand that perfectly tells their story. And they keep telling it. And it keeps working, so much so that I now need to go and get some Dairy Milk. I’m confident that I will be able to spot it immediately on the shop shelf amongst all the other chocolates. I’ll just keep an eye out for the shiny purple wrapper.


Colour me Fuzzy Wuzzy

It’s hard to know exactly how many colours there are. My Google search brought up answers that ranged from 3 to 16 million!

Colour is a complex subject with many strands, some of which I am going to talk about below. It is a topic that stretches far beyond the 7 colours of the rainbow. Crayola, for example officially have 133 different coloured crayons, including Fuzzy Wuzzy, Granny Smith Apple, Macaroni and Cheese, Purple Mountain’s Majesty, and Outer Space.

Beneath the surface.

I’m not interested in the science of colour though, I’m interested in how those colours are associated with the world around us, such as the four seasons, our favourite rooms in the house, our favourite clothes, and our favourite websites.

There is a reason we are drawn to the red jumper rather then the yellow jumper. Most notably because red and yellow express very different messages, but in order to connect the colours to the messages we must gather this understanding from somewhere, from the world around us. As colours and their meanings are so engraved in our cultures, we often don’t realise that colours make us feel a certain way or influence our decisions, it becomes so natural that it is a subconcious process.

Colours impact on our moods too.

Stories, brands, cultures, they all give meaning to colour but we often overlook this. For that reason, the true value of colour is arguably, invisible. Colours undoubtedly mask our world but how often do we stop and consider what messages we are conveying by choosing one colour over another?

It is well documented that in psychiatric and mental health hospitals, they paint the walls in muted tones such as cool blues, as this creates a calm mood for the patients. That’s how powerful colour can be.

Colour in Culture.

Beyond all the studies into how our brains and eyes receive and process colours, and further to the issues of hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast, colours have cultural, symbolic, and religious associations which, if we don’t consider during design, means we could stand to offend our target audience by getting it wrong.

The brand colour for Thai Airways is purple. In Thailand purple is a colour of mourning. Mourning and flying are not two things you would connect in order to increase your customer base! In the West though, purple is associated with royalty and luxury, and even magic. Therefore, if Thai Airways see their target audience as people outside of Thailand, then they are saying to them ‘ we provide a luxurious service’.

Connotation and denotation.

The denotation of something is its literal meaning. For colour then, the denotation of red is red, for blue it is blue and so on.

The connotation is the meaning that is implied or suggested. For red the connotation varies depending on the context
it is viewed in, but most commonly red connotes danger or love.  It is the mood often associated with the object.

Take this rose for example:


The denotation here is a red rose with a green stem as that is literally what it is. The connotation however, is passion, love and romance, as a red rose is a symbol of these emotions. That is what a red rose has come to represent.

Applying this to colours rather than objects can help us make informed decisions when choosing colour in website design.

Is this a black square?

Black Square

Yes it is if we look at it literally. The denotation here is the absence of colour. It is simply a square that is black.

The connotation however could be fear of the unknown, the dark, a void, space and so on. Perhaps not as obvious as we first thought.

Meaning through relevance

Beyond the descriptive and mood words, colours have significance in other topics. Sports teams are always a good example. In Wales for example, red is a colour that our national sports teams wear so for us it is very much a ‘Welsh’ colour. In Scotland it is blue, white for England and Green for Ireland.

What this clearly demonstrates is that relevance will influence the significance of colours. Red is relevant to me as I am Welsh. Red is also associated with love, Christmas and danger so there are very different contexts within which red communicates very different messages.

The colours we choose in our designs should be informed decisions rather than ‘I prefer purple to pink’ or ‘just use green’. We should think about what invisible meanings the colours will bring to our sites, what audiences and cultures they will be seen by, and undoubtedly, will they turn my design into something beautiful. Colour combinations can communicate emotions without the need to show actual objects.

If we understand that different colours have different qualities then this will directly impact the designs that are produced, but what should never be underestimated is making informed decisions on what colours to use in web design based on cultural representations and the hidden meanings of colours.