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True Colors

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 When you've been in the business as long as the Bs have, you rack up some pretty entertaining war stories. One time, for example, we were creating a custom sales binder for one of Boston's leading financial services companies. The specific program we were supporting had its own color palette, separate from the corporate standards. For some reason, the vendor who was silk screening the binder — despite their best efforts — couldn't match the colors to the client's satisfaction. (Multiple members of our team, by the way, thought the binder looked great.) We were there, with the client, day after day and, finally, late into a night. After several cups of coffee and lukewarm take-out Thai, the client started laughing, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and announced, "I don't even know why I'm here. I'm color blind."

Say what?

Another time, we had a client who had an unearthly aversion to the color yellow. Try as we might, we couldn't do much to please him. His product was ... we kid you not ... The Yellow Pages.

Color is key to branding and to effective marketing communications. But, it's one of the most subjective tools we work with. Wile some clients may love red (or hate yellow), there are common emotions that colors evoke and that's what should guide us as we design.

Here's a quick primer on which color drives what feeling ...

Red communicates energy, excitement, and passion. It stimulates the appetite and expresses a sense of urgency. But, it can also mean danger or quite literally "Stop." Popular brands that use red include Target and Coca-Cola.

Blue can convey loyalty, security, and trust. It expresses wisdom and can have a calming effect. On the other hand, blue can feel cold, unfeeling, and impersonal. Popular brands that use blue include IBM and America Express.

Green often stands for nature, growth, and prosperity. It's relaxing and natural. It can also (as anyone who studied Shakespeare's Othello will attest) mean envy. Popular brands that use green include Starbucks and Whole Foods.

Yellow is often used to denote youth, creativity, and happiness. It makes you think of sunshine. But, the word "yellow" can also be used to describe someone who is cowardly. Popular brands that use yellow include Hertz and Post-It.

Orange, like yellow, exudes warmth and energy. It's considered a friendly color and innovative. For some reason, though, people think of orange as a "cheap color." Popular brands that use orange include Harley Davidson and Amazon.

Purple is a symbol of royalty and wealth. It can indicate that something is prestigious and decadent — depending on your brand, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Popular brands that use purple include the chocolate companies Cadbury and Milka.

Black indicates elegance, power and authority. But, in western cultures, it also can signify evil or death. You may choose to use it to project a non-nonsense less-is-more attitude. Popular brands that rely on black include Chanel, Nike and  L'Oréal.

White is a clean and streamlined choice. It feels very modern. But, without the right touch, it can look a little too clean — to the point of feeling empty and sterile. Popular brands that believe less (color) is more include Apple, SONY, and Adidas.

Pink is typically used to stress the femininity of a brand. It seems playful, flirty, young, and, yes, feminine. With that in mind, you may not want to use it if the majority of your target audience is male. Popular brands that think pink include Barbie (duh), Victoria's Secret (duh), and Dunkin' Donuts (hmmm).

One last consideration ... chances are, you'll use more than one color in your design work. Be careful about the colors you put together. Some combinations are already ingrained deep in your audience's brain. Like black and orange for Halloween. Or red and green for Christmas. Or orange and turquoise for Howard Johnson's.

(And, if that doesn't date us, we don't know what does.)

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