By Dr. Wayne Likavec Product Development & Quality Control Manager, DayGlo Color Corp.
The most popular color across the world is blue.
At least, that’s what the marketing world would have us believe. Three firms – Cheskin, MSI-ITM, and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library – worked together on a survey in 17 countries to determine people’s color preferences and the motives behind those decisions. From Canada to China, and from Belgium to Brazil, every country surveyed chose blue as their top color.
To give some idea of how popular blue is, 40% of all respondents worldwide chose it as their favorite color. The second favorite – purple – was only chosen by 14%.
It’s well known that we associate colors with emotions, products, and companies. Successful firms have been building their brands around color for many years and have, on occasion, created a universal color association that links a firm or product inexorably to a color in that market (see Coca-Cola and the color red). Companies understand the power of color – whether it is a part of the branding, the packaging, or even the product itself.
With blue, however, it is not so straightforward. So many brands have been linked to blue – Pepsi, America Express, Microsoft, IBM to name but a few – that the color space has become, in effect, over-saturated. This may especially be the case with packaging, where blue is also a popular background choice for products whose logo and brand may be a different color altogether.
It’s hard to build a brand with blue, but that doesn’t stop companies from trying. New and existing brands alike are turning to color to help boost sales and build their identity. And blue continues to remain a universally ‘safe’ color to use.
Standing Out In a Blue World
Against this (blue) background, how are companies to build a brand and package around a color that has, arguably, been the most popular choice for over 30 years?
Shades of Blue
The first thing to bear in mind is that, while ‘blue’ may be the most popular color in the world, very little is said about what shade of blue people are talking about.
Biologically speaking, our eyes can perceive 65,536 colors on the RGB scale that contain some degree of blue in them, although this would include any number of greens, browns and purples that would never be considered ‘blue’. A quick search on Wikipedia will bring up 60 recognized and named shades of blue in use, from the academic (Oxford Blue to Yale Blue) to the military (Air Force Blue or Navy Blue), and from the well-known (Denim or Tiffany Blue) to obscure (Phthalocyanine Blue BN or Zaffre). From another perspective, as of 2008, the carmaker Porsche had used over 70 different shades of blue in its vehicles over the years.
While some are inevitably far more popular than others, the first thing that brands need to be aware of is that there is enough room in the blue color space to find their own niche.
Color Fluorescence As far back as in the 1930s, when the founders of DayGlo first discovered pigments that glowed far brighter than normal under certain lighting conditions, there has been an interest in getting more out of color.
In the 1940s, that meant daylight fluorescent colors – shades that utilize a larger amount of both the visible light spectrum and the lower wavelengths compared to conventional ones and consequently are perceived by our eyes as far more intense colors. Those colors are visible everywhere in the consumer world today – one look in the detergents section of your local supermarket will show a range of brightly-colored packages and containers that stand out from the rest. It is the fluorescent pigments in their coloring and packaging that make those products seem to leap off the shelf.
And, yes, there is a fluorescent blue pigment available.
‘Fluorescent’ has consequently become synonymous with ‘bright’ and ‘bold’, which is not always the effect a company looks for. It is not well known, therefore, that fluorescents can also be used to create subtle shades in packaging that will catch the eye but not necessarily blind it!
At DayGlo, a good proportion of our business is in mixing fluorescent pigments with conventional colors, rather than using them on their own. Horizon Blue – our daylight fluorescent – is a very strong, bright blue indeed. Mix it with magenta, however, and it becomes a deep and rich purple; layer it instead with yellow and it becomes a luscious green. Neither of those resulting colors would be considered ‘fluorescent’, yet they retain enough of the chemical properties of that fluorescent that they emit more light, and more color, than conventional tones. Consequently, when used judiciously in packaging and products, they continue to catch the eye, even though the shades themselves are subtle.
This technology, therefore, brings another dimension to building a brand with blue, adding a touch of fluorescence to the brand’s chosen shade of blue for an extra effect – on the can, the box, or in the logo itself.
Color Special Effects:
Fluorescence is actually just one of the many color ‘special effects’ that can be used to distinguish blue products and packaging from one another, make them stand out, and ultimately build a brand identity. Here are some others.
Semi-transparent: These pigments are used in applications where consumers need to be able to see the contents of a package – such as food packaging or Tupperware containers. Traditionally that has meant a completely clear plastic needs to be used, but pigments are now available that can give a jewel-like color to the material without affecting its clarity.
Pearlescent: These pigments can be used in product packaging (and in some cases the ingredients themselves) to create a color ‘shift’ depending on how they are viewed. By layering colors together that can only be viewed at certain angles, the colors change before your eyes with a simple shift of your head.
Phosphorescent: These pigments only react to light under specific circumstances. Certain glow-in-the-dark pigments, for example, are ‘charged’ by exposure to visible light and then emit a bright and sustained blue afterglow when the lights have been turned off. Invisible fluorescent pigments, in contrast, can’t be seen in normal daylight, but produce a highly visible bright and vibrant blue color when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Putting It All Together
Blue may be the world’s most popular color, but there is clearly more than enough room within that color space for companies to build a brand identity through products and packaging that are both unique and eye-catching.
Consider partnering with color specialists, who can work with the materials available to you in order to achieve the exact color effect you are looking for to represent your brand. This can reduce the risk of costly delays in production and increase the likelihood of developing a color that will become identified with your brand and your line of products alone.
What is most important, however, is to go into the color selection process understanding all the options that are available with current technology. With probably close to 100 recognized shades of blue, and multiple color effects that can be applied to those shades, building a unique brand identity doesn’t just happen once in a blue moon….