The first thing we notice with a brand is its colour. In a matter of seconds, a statement is made without a word having been said. And the colour remains in the mind. That’s what makes brand colours so important. A conversation with Swiss marketing expert Eckhard Sohns.
Why are so many logos blue, Mr. Sohns? Sohns: Allow me to ask you a question in return: Where did you spend your holiday this year?
In Greece. Well, take another look at your holiday photos, you’ll see a lot of blue. You probably often sat on the beach lost in thought, relaxed, staring at the endless expanse of the horizon where the sky melts into the blue sea. If you are normally accustomed to the wintry grey of the sky over Milan or Berlin, you’ll quickly feel very good at this point. We love blue, because we are familiar with it, because it awakens longings and occurs in contexts which have a positive meaning. That’s something you can work with when you’re developing a brand identity.
Isn’t that a bit too romantically expressed? Blue is the colour of romantics! And that not by chance. It’s important to understand where blue takes its very elementary effect from. Blue is a universal, almost metaphysical pledge that we directly perceive. It penetrates deeply into us. You don’t need the cognitive detour via the values that are associated with the colour in order to develop a positive connection. The numerous meanings that we project onto a colour over time and culturally codify them, hark back to this experience. Precisely because they can always be traced back to our having experienced them, they function, consciously, as
well as unconsciously.
Which values lie within the colour blue? Sky and vastness denote tranquillity and relaxation, and mean that you can let go. That’s the best thing you can associate with a brand: harmony with oneself and the world, a kind of fundamental trust, which Freud, not without good reason, called oceanic feeling. You feel understood, safe and in good hands. An enticing offer, especially in times characterised by anxiety about the future. And it’s no accident that the figure of Maria in the Christian colour codex is represented in blue. For the perceived identity of a company, these are relevant factors, no matter in which branch you work. Even though you do find a particularly large amount of blue in the technology sector, for example by Samsung, HP, Dell and Siemens, among others. Not to mention the UN and the European Union, which are blue out of conviction. And in Wikipedia’s DNA there is, rightfully so, a strong colour blue.
Where else is blue dominant? Another experiential context where we come into contact with colours as messages is street traffic. Whereas red brings us to a halt and demands caution, blue and green stand for unrestricted movement. The increased attention that red requires of us, and which can be used to top effect for brand communication, is not something that blue has: blue signs indicate the way to proceed, and the best way to reach your destination.
Why does blue dominate especially in globally active companies? One of the most impressive photos of the 20th century shows the Earth as a blue planet. This image is a part of all of us. Blue is linked to the self-assured claim to global prominence. That applies not only to the already-named brands and institutions. A diverse range of companies, such as Disney, General Electrics, Intel and Microsoft, as well as automobile brands like Volkswagen, Ford and BMW, have identities with a high proportion of blue. And of course Facebook can only be blue – even if, according to legend, founder Mark Zuckerberg’s red-green colour blindness is the reason for Facebook’s blue.
Well, then all brands should actually be blue. If blue is already taken though, you’ll probably have to select another colour for differentiation. Seriously: Every colour is anchored in the reality of life in its own way, has its specific values and emotions that express an identity in terms of colour. If you, like Google, are open for everything, you’ll choose a logo that conveys variety by using many colours. Even brands that aren’t blue can today be “blue-washed”. Blue-washing shows that not everyone who communicates with blue actually lives blue values. These are very demanding. With blue-washing, companies adorn themselves with the blue of, say, the United Nations, the trustworthy good guys in an evil world. But the colour blue remains on the surface; they join the global compact of the United Nations with a publicly effective high profile without credibly anchoring sustainability in the company. They promise something that they cannot fulfil. And at some point that becomes obvious.
Mr. Sohns, thank you for the conversation.
Dr. Eckhard Sohns (52) is a marketing expert and with his office comunicAzione has been supporting the marketing activities of Prodir for many years.