18 January 2012

Brand Gender Determination Using The Colour Wheel: Susan Mathen, JWT Planning, Bangalore

‘Colours, like features, follow the changes of emotions’ – Pablo Picasso
Colours tell us stories.
Colours represent certain emotions, characteristics, values or objects; depending on the context. They act as symbols. In this regards, colours act as the ‘the signifiers’ and ‘the signified’ changes in different cultures.
At the deepest level, colours signify either masculine features or feminine features. A large role of determining the gender of an intangible object, like a brand, is played by colours. Here is an attempt to demystify the topic of Brand Gender, through colour symbolism.
Colour Symbolism:
Colour symbolism can be extremely interesting. Individually a colour could mean something. This meaning changes with the context. A red heart could mean love, a red skull and bone could mean danger, a red cross could mean hospital, a red ribbon could stand for AIDS awareness. When the colour that accompanies red changes, the meaning changes yet again. For most Christians, Red and Green signifies Christmas, for the football fanatics, Red and Yellow, probably signifies the Manchester United logo, and Red and Black in the NBA context, would mean the Chicago Bulls.
Colour Symbolism in Ancient Cultures:
Delving into a little bit of ancient Indian culture, you see that colours meant a lot even in terms of religion and spirituality. The Trinity- Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer- are represented together with Red, White and Black. The Five Elements, or the Panchabhuta, are also represented thus: Earth- Red, Water- Orange, Fire- Yellow, Air- Green, and Space- Blue. Talking about the Five Colours (Pancharang) it is quite powerful in different philosophies like Egyptian, Chinese, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist and Greek. There is a similar set of five colours (the actual colours used in each philosophy differs) representing the basis of the universe. In the Hindu stories, Surya or the Sun God is known as the Saptasvavahana/ Chitrabhanu as the seven horses that draw his chariot are Sveta(white), Rakta(red), Krisna(black), Pita(yellow), Harita(green), Kapisa(grey) and Nila(blue).
In Indian classical music, each swara (note) has a specific colour and when in combination with each other, various Ragas (tunes) are created(Samaveda has mentioned the 7 swaras, their respective colours, related god, grahas(planets) etc.). The corresponding colours of these swaras (or notes, the Indian equivalent of Do, Re, Mi…)are as follows: Sa- Green, Ri- Red, Ga- Golden, Ma- White/ Yellowish tint, Pa- Blue, Dha- Yellow, Ni- Multicoloured.
According to Bharata’s Natyasastra (Treatise on Performing Arts)- the 8 emotions or the Ashtarasas are symbolised as follows: Sringara (love)- green, Hasya (humour)- white, Karuna (pity)- dove coloured, Raudra (anger)- red, Vira (courage)- wheatish brown, Bhayanaka (fear)- black, Bibhatsa (disgust)- blue and Adbhuta (wonder)- yellow.
In ancient Egyptian usage colours broadly had the following meanings: Green was for new life or fertility, Red was for victory(during celebrations they used to paint their bodies red), White for purity (the name of the holy city, Memphis, meant White Walls), Black for death( Osiris the king of afterlife, was known as the black one), Yellow or Gold for eternal (Gold was used during mummy masks and cases), Blue for continuity (The phoenix, a symbol of rebirth was depicted in shades of blue).
There are similar, extremely insightful and interesting examples from different ancient cultures. Clearly, colours in the ancient times meant a lot. What about today? Are we losing the meanings behind colours and using colours a tad too frivolously?
The Colour Palette Today:
Looking at the globalized, commercialized, almost kitsch, postmodern canvas that the world is, you see colours smeared across with no apparent meanings. More so in the world of brands. There are very few times when the colour meanings are used with care. A retrospective effort to slap on meanings for the colours used in logos or branding is extremely different from arriving at the values of a brand and the colours they should therefore adopt.
Overabundance of Red and White:
Looking around at some of the popular brands, there seem to be an overabundance of red, almost always paired with white or appearing with white on a backdrop of black.
Vodafone, CocaCola, Virgin, Adobe, Puma, Levi’s, KFC, Colgate, Honda, Esprit, Pizza Hut, Youtube, Toyota, Marlboro, HSBC, Oracle, Budweiser, Canon, Kellogg’s, Sanyo, Toshiba, LG, Nintendo, Xerox, Nestle, Kitkat, Audi, Reuters, BBC, CNN, Smirnoff, Bacardi, are all popular international brands that have condensed their entire brand identity in logos of red and white.
The Communist flag, the Nazi symbol, the Japanese flag, the AIDs awareness symbol, the Red Cross symbol, even Santa Claus come adorned in red and white.
Why is Red and White so popular? Why is it a powerful combination?
Getting to the root of Red and White:
Red and White: A Roman Colour Symbol by Phillip L. Thomas points out how in the Latin literature used red and white metaphors to symbolize life and death. Through blood and bones, roses and milk, roses and bones, poppies and lilies, wine and milk, etc.
The Japanese ‘hinomaru’- or the rising sun, is based on the belief by most Japanese that the sun is red in colour. The sun is the basis of all primal energy and is the beginning of the cosmos. Even the national flag is of the hinomaru on a white background. Combinations of red and white signify auspiciousness in the Japanese traditions and white and red strips of cloth are hung during the wedding ceremonies there.
The Chinese Yin and Yang principle is one of the classic explanations of the perfect blend of two opposing forces. The Yin Yang symbol is seen either in black and white or in red and white. Yin, the darker element, red in this case, is feminine, passive, associated with valleys, night, the waning moon, slightly negative, etc. Yang, on the other hand, is the brighter element, white, that is active, masculine, positive, associated with day, the hills, the full moon, etc.
The Hindu philosophy also offers an explanation on the power of red and white as a combination. Purushais the male principle and Prakriti is the female principle. Purusha is associated with the white of the seminal fluid, therefore male, and Prakriti is associated with the red of the menstrual blood. Like the previous Yin Yang symbol, the Purusha-Prakriti combination is believed to be of supreme significance. The union of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses are represented in caste marks of the Shiva worshippers and the Vishnu worshippers. Shiva and his consort, Parvati are represented by three horizontal white lines and a red dot. Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi are represented by a white V mark and a red line in the centre. Most Hindu temples have red and white striped walls.
What do we learn from these two colours?
The fire and potency of human life are symbolized in rituals by the colour red (heat) and control by white (cooling) substances. These two colours, in short, symbolise warm or feminine traits on the one hand, and cool or masculine traits on the other.
The perfect blend of these two opposing forces signify a balance, with no skew towards either side.
The underlying reason for the widespread usage of complementary colours should also be the same. That a shade of colour from the warm side of the colour wheel balances well with a shade of colour from the cool side of the colour wheel.
Dominant Values of a Brand: Masculine or Feminine?
The most important exercise for a brand is to determine whether the dominant brand values are masculine or feminine. This determines the choice of colours or the colour palette for the brand. The colour wheel is divided into the cool/ masculine side and the warm/ feminine side.
Mapping Values and Traits on the Colour Wheel:

Values that a brand stands for can be mapped onto either side of the colour wheel, depending on whether they are feminine/warm traits or masculine/cool traits.
Masculine Traits are Strong, Rough, Muscular, Competitive, Providing, Rational, Aggressive, and Logical while Feminine Traits include Gentle, Sensitive, Soft , Pure, Nurturing, Emotional, and Passive. Masculine and feminine traits could be debated, but there are some values and traits that are broadly agreed upon as falling under one of the two sides.

Depending on what the brand custodians agree as the most important values of their brand, this mapping exercise can begin. A larger number of cool traits would imply the selection of more colours from the cool side of the colour wheel or a larger number of warm traits would imply selection of more colours from the warm side of the colour wheel.
Competitive Colour Scan:
While we are at the colour analysis of brands, a competition scan based only on colours can also prove helpful. This results in an understanding of the most popularly used colours in this category in your market. This could mean either of two things: these colours are very important in that category therefore we should not disregard them, or there is way too much of these colours, so we should stay away from them. This is a call that needs to be taken after a deeper understanding of the category.
Cultural Colour Symbolisms of the Category:
Rather than choosing colours randomly from the colour wheel, some logical reasons would make this exercise more robust.
For example, if we are in the education business, what are the cultural symbols associated with education in a specific culture? If this is in India, we look at certain age old symbols that go hand in hand with education.
• Saraswati is the goddess associated with knowledge, and is represented by the colour white.
• The custom of lighting a lamp is a symbol of auspiciousness, and is usually done before you begin any sort of learning. The flame thus becomes a symbol here, and the colours associated with it- yellow, orange or probably gold.
• Turmeric is associated with wisdom in ancient Indian traditions. Therefore, the colour yellow.
• Saffron is associated with ascetics who are in search of greater wisdom. Therefore, the colour orange.
• Another common symbol of learning is the dancing god Shiva, crushing the demon of ignorance, the ‘Apasmara Purusha’. Shiva is depicted either with black or blue.
We have the following colour palette based on cultural symbols:
Warm: Yellow, Orange, Gold
Cool: White, Blue/Black
Depending on the brand values and this cultural symbols exercise we arrive at the brand colours of the education business.
Brand gender determination is as important as freezing on the brand values and brand personality. Knowing the gender and expressing the same through the most appropriate colour palette makes the brand more congruent with its personality. Colour symbolisms when used carefully could make your brand reach out to your target audience in the most genuine manner. Colours are not there for no rhyme or reason, they are pregnant with meaning, and we as brand custodians should reflect on the colours that exist in our category and more specifically on colours that are right for our brand’s gender mix (dominantly masculine, with a few feminine traits or vice versa).

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, Interesting thoughts but I believe the major color of brands today is blue (or shades of blue) look around facebook,twitter, pepsi, etc are all blue...!! I dont know what it translates into but it may also mean calmness ........ just a thought

    Ayesha - www.customertrendlog.com