branding identity through colour… royal mail’s iconic red mail box

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

Branding identity through colour... royal mail's iconic red mail box. This opens a new browser window.

When it comes to brand recognition through colour, you can’t go past the Royal Mail and their red mail boxes.

Did you know the Royal mail post boxes were originally green? Proving difficult to spot, especially in the thick fog, in 1874 it was changed to red.

attracting attention
Although red is not the most visible colour in daylight (yellow is), having the longest wavelength, red appears to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Red says ‘look at me’, making the red mail post boxes very easy to spot.

branding colours
Royal Mail has very strict guidelines when it comes to its branding colours.  All Royal Mail letter boxes must be painted in standard red and black livery. And by adhering to specific colour codes dilution of  brand colour is minimised, a common problem most brands face.

Branding identity through colour… royal mail’s iconic red mail box - King George V & VI. This opens a new browser window.

Royal mail boxes during the reigns of King George V & VI. Photo copyright © Rosalind Wicks.

colour exceptions
No colour variation is allowed.  The only exception is for very exceptional circumstances where there are genuine historical reasons, such as the use of green and black livery for some early boxes or Air Force blue for surviving George VI airmail boxes. Interestingly, light blue is the most visible colour at night.

Branding identity through colour... royal mail's iconic red mail box. This opens a new browser window.

What other brands do you notice or stand out for you because of their brand colours?

Source:  Royal Mail Letter Boxes (a joint policy statement by Royal Mail and English Heritage_2002), History of British Letter Boxes.

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  1. Tamsin Fox-Davies on October 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I love this post!

    Our Royal Mail boxes are such an iconic British image.

    Old phone boxes were the same red, weren’t they? Which I can understand because the Post Office used to own them.

    However, am I right in thinking that the old routemaster London buses were the same colour too? If so, is there a reason for that?

    • admin on October 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Tamsin,

      From my understanding the same red was used for mail boxes, phone booths and yes, the wonderful old routemasters. I believe these were all at one stage government run. When you think about it we look out for a phone booth, a post box or a bus. The colour red is idea for attracting attention, being seen. Red says look at me, notice me.

  2. Laura on November 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

    My mum often rants about how easy it used to be to spot a mail box down a street. Now its more tricky with red bins, recycling units, and all kinds of street furniture and red cars by the dozen (ooo – there’s an article in that – what is the colour breakdown on new cars, and how has that changed over the decades…).
    Even though the red is really prominent, they’re apparently not as noticeable against the jumble of activity on our busy streets anymore…. or maybe dear old Ma is just getting old!

    Thanks for sharing Karen… x

    • admin on November 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Hi Laura, There is definitely a lot more street furniture than there used to be. I’ve noticed most are black or silver, making the red mail box still the most visible. Good point about the red cars, the more we see a colour, the more we notice it!

  3. melissa on May 16, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Hello today our local pilliar box was painted silver. It was done carefully and only on the red so I doubt it was graffiti. I really don’t understand what it could represent cause I know pink is for repainting and gold for olimpics but I don’t know about silver and couldn’t find anything about it either

    • admin on June 8, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Melissa,

      Apologies for not responding until now. That is interesting. I’ve not been able to find anything either. Sometimes a protective paint is used to protect metal which is usually silver in colour. It would be interesting to find out the meaning.
      You’ll no doubt be keeping your eye out for others painted in silver.

      Karen x

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