Peter Aldous, Elmwood | Thinking in Colour plus

Brands today have to live in many worlds and appear in many different forms, writes Elmwood’s Peter Aldous.

Peter Aldous, creative services director, Elmwood
Peter Aldous, creative services director, Elmwood

From packaging to posters, digital to delivery drivers’ shirt collars. And wherever they appear, consistency is the key to maintaining recognition among consumers. If M&S green changed to a vivid lime, customers might wonder what was going on. If Coke started printing purple cans, people might be suspicious about their contents. You could argue that colour recognition is even more important than the brand mark. So whether it’s seen on a screen, or six feet away in a supermarket aisle, we need to understand what keeps colour consistent, and our brands strong.

Yet given its importance, it’s surprising just how much poor colour execution there is out there. Look online and photographed products can be unrecognisable compared to their physical counterparts. Reviewing product ranges that extend from labels to bags, these often suffer from a colour disconnect. How does this come about? Poor colour choice and critically, a lack of understanding about how colour is applied and reviewed.

More importantly, how do we even begin to choose colours if getting it right is such a delicate balance? After all, colour is primal and can trigger basic survival responses in us; we are preprogrammed to react to it in ways we are not fully aware of. Yellow and black are natures warning colors. If it’s yellow, black and buzzes, crawls or slithers, chances are it may hurt us. It is no coincidence that black on yellow is the color combination that the human eye registers first and scores highest for memory retention. Which is why we use these principles to signal danger or to create a sense of urgency.

The key is understanding how colour works and working within some clear guiding principles. Our creative services’ expertise in this area, combined with the creative brains of our designers, ensure we get to something that works for the client. Before we start any project we always consider three main factors. Will the chosen colour differentiate, will it be recognisable and can we achieve it?

Sacred bottle and label CMYK

Will it differentiate?

Look across the branding spectrum and you’ll see a cacophony of colour. Every shade is represented, and there are marked concentrations – blue for banking and financial services for example. This happens because colour carries meaning – a whole other presentation – and that’s something that needs to be considered.

Would you really want to go with the colour conventions of the sector when your competitors are using similar shades? True differentiation comes about by understanding the intent behind your brand, and your distinct point of view. That’s what will inform the correct colour choice. From there, it’s vital to maintain clear differentiation and the key to achieving that is consistency. Over time, Chanel No. 5’s black and white color palette along with simple use of typography and color, has created something so restrained and recognizable, it’s iconic.

Will it be recognisable?

Recognisability is an important factor in the choice of colour. How a colour stands out in   particular circumstances, and identifying where your brand will live will directly affect how easy it is to distinguish. Much of this relies on an understanding of how colours react to print processes, screen resolution and lighting. For instance, our client Sacred Gin’s sales in retail were booming. But the foil and colours on their bottle that worked so well under supermarket lighting just didn’t show up in dimly-lit bars. So we made the necessary changes to those foils and colours, making sure the bottle was instantly recognisable at the optics.

In the same way, a design on a computer screen that shows high contrast and clear definition will not be achieved on a porous stock and poor inks. Considering all the options ahead of time will predict the outcomes and point the way towards a practical, feasible colour choice.

Will it be achievable?

Here’s where we combine our internal knowledge with input from printers and print management agencies. We understand how colour is generated with inks for print, and light on screen. The range that can be achieved on screen is far wider than the printed range, and printing on pure white carton board gives better results than on post-print litho corrugated cardboard.

So which end of the spectrum do we aim for? Dulled down for carton board, or the most vibrant colour as it appears on screen? Too much difference and the brand is watered down, while too little can mean going for the lowest common denominator. Together, we can evaluate various applications to help us make, not just an informed choice, but the right choice.

Working closely together between teams, and taking an informed approach that takes all these three factors into account can help us make sure we’re getting the colour exactly right in every situation. And it ultimately means we’re giving our clients the greatest impact and highest levels of effectiveness.

Peter Aldous is creative service director at Elmwood

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