Why hospitals are blue and pencils yellow

Can you imagine the Twitter logo in purple? Would Mag gi still look like roadside comfort food if the packet wasn’t yellow? Could a white Ferrari stop you in the tracks like a red one does? Most likely, not. Colours make for some of the strongest and fondest associations in our brain. They can make and break moods, and also products.Colours play a pivotal role in marketing, wordlessly communicating a brand’s message. “The red of Coke is all about getting a high, about energy . Whereas, Apple’s white stands for unpredictability -this brand wants to surprise you. Colour is one of the essential senses, it connects the product to the consumer,“ says Darshan Gandhi, design head, Godrej Consumer Products Pvt Ltd.

Yellow for comfort, blue for trust, red for energy and white for adventure -colours evoke strong associations in our mind. Ahead of Holi, Sunday Times looks at how the shade card drives brands and the marketplace

The study of colour is a science in itself. Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder director, Elephant, a creative agency based in Pune, says that the semiotics order goes this way: 1. Colour. 2. Shape.3. Picture. 4. Words. “At a subconscious level, colour evokes emotions, associations and responses that we may not even be aware of,“ she points out.


A marketing study published in the journal Management Decision (2006) found that 90% of snap judgements made about a product can be based on colour alone. In an email interview with Sunday Times, Laurie Presman, vice-president Pantone Color Institute (a colour forecast and trends establishment), says that most decision making involving colour is intuitive and emotional, only 5% of it is rational.

There is a reason why toys, children’s clothes and shoes tend to be yellow (75% of all pencils sold in the US are yellow).A primary colour, it grabs attention -a handy quality when dealing with toddlers whose average attention span is said to be eight minutes. Plus, it’s considered a happy colour.

Luxury brands pick colours that reflect exclusivity . The orange of the Hermés logo marks you from apart from the crowd. Tiffany’s iconic blue is meant to recall a sense of indul gence. “From the moment you set your eyes upon Tiffany’s cool and fresh aquat ic blue shade, a colour that speaks of vi brancy and escape, you are immediately transported into a world filled with luxu ry and delight,“ writes Presman in an article on colour intelligence on the Pan tone website.


According to colour theory , blue also translates to reliability, focus and calm. Which explains why hospitals go for the colour in a big way . And why Twitter and Facebook -platforms where users reveal more secrets than they would to their best friends -stick to blue. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Business Research, patrons are 15% more likely to return to stores with blue, but not orange, colour schemes.

If colours can push across the message, they can also change it. A case in point is Breaking Out and Making Big, a book on start-ups and entrepreneurship. For this title the publishers, HarperCollins, decided to break convention and go with a pink cover. Usually , blue andor white colours are reserved for business book covers. “This book was about stories of break ing out, about people who broke rules, took risks. So we decided to give it a pink cover and it worked,“ says Bonita Vaz-Shimray, art director, HarperCollins India.

Deshpande recalls instances when she took unconventional colour decisions for the brand’s sake. “One was when we worked with Britannia to give Bourbon its own identity . Chocolate being the core of this product, obvious choices were browns or purple, which is a core colour of the Cadbury dairy milk range across all its variants. But we wanted the brand to be young, friendly and cheerful.A metallic orange gave us that confident base,“ she says.color choice


With so much riding on colour, choosing the right one for a product is a lengthy process based on colour theory that’s taught in most design institutes in India. “Brands start testing colour options two to three years in advance,“ says Latika Khosla, who runs India’s only colour forecasting studio, Freedom Tree. Of course, the brand has to connect to the colour palette but there are a host of other factors that become significant as well -quality of light, culture and market conditions for example.

Pantone has chosen rose quartz (pale pink) and serenity blue (the baby shade) as colours for 2016. These, the company says, reflect our times. Says Presman: “One of the biggest trends right now is this desire for balance. We are living in turbulent times with many of us feeling a lot of stress. This desire for a new balance continues to play itself out in our colour choices with the consumers desire to see something new showing up in muted and discerning colour stories.“ According to Pantone, serenity blue has a calming effect and rose quartz conveys compassion and a sense of composure.