What could happen if these famous brands swapped their iconic colours? – part 1

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller
iconic brands swapped their brand colours karen haller

Chances are you’re seeing an iconic brand everyday whether that’s when you’re out shopping on the Internet browsing through a magazine. And it’s likely that you recognise that brand instantly through their brand colours. Imagine what would happen if the colours were to switch? Would our perception of the brand and our relationship to the brand also change?

When ICON printing posed this question to me, I was excited to see what could happen. They gave me the 10 top brands in the UK and asked me to switch them to the opposite colour on the colour wheel and to share my analysis on the impact.

What we wanted to investigate here was the affect this might have on the consumer and to show just how powerful colour is when it comes to reaching a brand’s ideal target market and the message they are conveying on an emotive level.

Below I share five brands and the impact in swapping their brand colours. What was really interesting is that the three ways we relate to colour showed up here. There is a mix of colour association, colour in culture (symbolism) and colour psychology.

Read below to discover my analysis of each brand’s iconic colours and what might happen if they changed them.

Cadbury and their iconic purple

iconic brands swapped their brand colours cadbury karen haller 1

When we think of Cadbury, the colour that springs to mind is none other than their ‘iconic’ purple.

How important is this colour to their brand? Cadbury applied for a trademark to use this colour, which has been in use on its packaging for more than 100 years. And it’s important enough for them to have spent several years in dispute with another chocolate company who also wanted to use this very colour.

A spokesperson for Cadbury stated how this colour was ‘jealously guard’ so it comes as no surprise given the instant brand recognition and brand loyalty, something which is highly coveted by major brands.

Looking at the positive psychological traits of dark purple, it conveys the message of quality and luxury. And what Cadbury is saying, they are affordable luxury. Everyday luxury. Not just for special occasions.

If Cadbury changed their branding to bright yellow. They would instantly lose brand recognition. Their entire marketing message would change and likely their target market too.  It’s no longer about affordable luxury. Instead, the message would focus on yellow’s positive psychological traits; lifting our spirits, like we feel when the sun is shining and filling us with happy thoughts.

Netflix and their eye catching red

iconic brands swapped their brand colours netflix karen haller 1

There’s a reason why red is used in cinemas and theatres. When we sit on red seats, it’s encouraging us to get excited, full of anticipation for the show to begin. This is because in colour psychology terms, red stimulates the physical. It raises the pulse rate.

By using red in their branding, Netflix is taking that emotional experience and association we are already familiar.

There’s no doubt that Netflix want to get noticed and be seen. Red is the perfect colour because its wavelengths advance towards us the quickest, meaning we see red before any other colour. This ensures their logo stands out amongst its competitors.

If Netflix changed its brand colour to green, we would straight away lose that sense of anticipation, that excitement. The buzz would disappear. Instead, we’re being encouraged to relax, unwind, and feel at peace like we feel when we are out in nature, amongst the trees. Green is inviting us to relax on the sofa and settle in for the evening to watch a movie or a boxset.

Visa and their dependable blue

iconic brands swapped their brand colours visa karen haller

Dark blue is a colour that many major financial brands have used to assert their authority as being reliable, trustworthy, and dependable. These positive psychological traits show they are conservative by nature, not rash or impulsive. They want to show they are a safe pair of hands with managing our money.  It might also explain why dark blue is amongst the most popular clothing colours worn by staff in this industry.

Interestingly, Visa used to have gold as part of their branding, reducing it over the year to the point where it’s now been completely removed. Perhaps they were wanting their card to be seen as being accessible to everyone.  

If Visa switched to just using gold, that sense of accessibility, the ‘every-person’ card is now gone. Gold branding gives the impression of prestige, desirability and one of exclusivity. It’s creating the illusion this brand is now unattainable by their core target market.

M&S Simply Food and their reassured green

iconic brands swapped their brand colours ms simply food karen haller

We are reassured by green on a very primitive level. Where there is green, we know can find food and water. Green connects us to what feels familiar and safe.

When it comes to the positive psychology traits of green, it’s supporting us to relax, unwind, it gives us a sense of reassurance.

In the context of shopping, we are being encouraged to take our time, to browse. We know we don’t have to rush.

If M&S were to change their core brand colour to red, whilst easier to spot on the high street, would they now be seen as a ‘fast food’ brand?

Taking red into the store, it’s indicating to us that we can no longer linger. There would be a sense of urgency, like we’re being told to hurry up, shop and go, which is how we can feel at fast food outlets.

Over the years McDonald’s has been changing their stores in city and town centres using green as their main store colour. There is no longer a sense of rushing in for a quick bite to eat. They are inviting us to relax, get comfortable and take our time.

Cathedral City and their symbolic red

iconic brands swapped their brand colours cathedral city karen haller

One of the many ways a brand can choose its colours is through an association, something symbolic or that has cultural significance. Perhaps the “rich, regal garnet” of Cathedral City’s core brand colour has been based on the liturgical colours worn by priests at the nearby Wells Cathedral, Somerset.

When it comes to food packaging, over the years, blue has become associated with low fat and dietary products. When we are in the diary aisle of the supermarket, we can easily spot these products. Blue becomes a helpful navigation aid.

Cathedral City do have a light blue strip for their lighter version which helps us, the consumer to easily identity their lighter version.

We take in colour before anything else. If Cathedral City were to change their brand colour to all blue, we would make the initial assumption that all their products were now in their ‘lighter’ range, potentially losing customers who were looking for a full fat rich cheese. 

Using too much blue on the packaging could also activate our instinctive respond to blue and food, which is to see it as poisonous and unsafe. 

The Power of Colour for a brand

And that is the power of colour for a brand. No logo, no words, just the right colour placement and instantly your product is internationally recognisable.

Choosing the right colour or colour combination for your brand goes beyond the aesthetics. Colour sends a message on the emotional level that will influence the customer how they think feel and behave. Not being aware of this message could mean you’re losing customers and ultimately sales without you even realising it.

iconic brands the power of colour karen haller

I would be really interested to hear from the brands I’ve shared today, do you feel you would respond differently if they changed their brand colours, and would that change whether you bought from them or not? I would love to know. Let me know in the comments below.

Wishing you a colourful day!

In collaboration with ICON Printing, London based personalised t-shirt printing company. 

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