Blue and green the colours of choice in new media

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry. Nothing marks the visual territory of a category more immediately than how it uses colour. Outside of a...

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

Nothing marks the visual territory of a category more immediately than how it uses colour. Outside of a very few universal patterns, such as the fact that red and blue are the most oft-used colours in branding (and consistently identified as the two favourite colours – in equal measure – of North American consumers), the nature of a product category dictates how it will use colour to mark itself.

One of my favourites has always been laundry detergent. As a category, it is fluorescent and muscular. It’s all about using heavy chemistry to kick the crap out of the dirt in your clothes. So it uses the shock value of orange, yellow, red, lime green and bright blue, and renders its brands in extra bold, dark blue, sans serif typography, set in italic and on an angle, as if to say, ‘Caution: Men at Work!’

For a long time, the colours that defined technology companies were blue and grey. IBM set the tone and everybody else followed suit, until a company called Lucent came along and heated things up with a red ring of fire. But now that technology is focused on the Internet, the chromatic scale has shifted in a new direction: blue and green.

The preference is for a combination of royal blue and pea green. Brands like third age, Trust-e, E*Trade, shopnow.com, liveperson, exp.com, accompany, mentor:labs, e-vite.com, pandesic and marimba all use the same colour combination. Since the whole category is still in the incubation stage, and since the cycles in the world of ‘clicks’ are reputed to be a quarter of what they are in the world of ‘bricks’, it will be interesting to see whether or not this colour choice is going to last.

The Internet’s gestation as a commercial medium is about four or five years old. Predictions are that by 2003, the business-to-business e-commerce trade will have matured, meaning that the end-to-end infrastructure for e-commerce transactions will be firmly established. At that point, the major players in e-commerce will have been sorted out, and the legacy bricks-and-mortar retailers will have become fully integrated. So we’re looking at an incubation period of about eight or nine years. (Compare that to the incubation period for the print medium, which lasted from the printing of Gutenberg’s massive bible in 1455 to the pocket-sized publication of Virgil’s Georgics by Aldus Manutius in 1514).

So it won’t take long to see what part of the rainbow the Web will own. For now, though, it is interesting to speculate as to why blue and green have taken the lead. In the world of package design, green has traditionally been a line extension colour. Perhaps because it is psychologically calming, it has never been considered aggressive enough to be associated with leadership. Green is strongly associated with nature and so shows up in the gardening category. Its association with the environment has been reinforced by organizations such as Greenpeace and Germany’s Green Party. Green is also a health care colour.

These associations place green outside the psychological spectrum of most leading brands, which try to be as invasive as possible. But the Internet is nothing if not aggressive and in-your-face, so why does such a ‘neutral’ colour fare so well there? For one, it is almost always used with a contrasting blue, which has the effect of making it look warmer. Secondly, since it is a pea-green, it has a high degree of yellow in it, which makes it even warmer yet. And thirdly, the Internet is the new kid in town, a bit irreverent and not a little cocky, and still in the throes of self-definition. So if the legacy brands are primary colours, the brands of the new medium choose to use secondary colours. This is borne out by the prevalence, behind blue and green, of the colour orange: Net:)effect, flooz.com, bolt.com, MyWay, freeshop.com, Trip.com and flycast.com all use orange in a bid to stand out.

Business-to-business e-commerce providers have, for the most part, adhered to the traditional red/blue rules. Because they serve enterprise customers, they must appear to be more conservative and serious than some of the consumer brands mentioned above. Some things never change. But even in this category, instability is still evident as brands rapidly reposition themselves and change their images to match. It is not unusual for these brands to rename, reposition and relaunch themselves in a matter of months in order to leverage market perceptions.

Colour has a way of reflecting the energy of the age. The energy of the Internet age is as unstable as gasoline in the presence of flames. Maybe green and blue are just a natural calming response to our instinctive fear of technological fire.

Will Novosedlik is a principal of Russell Inc. in Toronto. Russell Inc. builds brands with differentiation and emotional appeal for top-tier companies in both Canada and the u.s. Please direct correspondence by e-mail to will.novosedlik@russellinc.com or by phone at (416) 591-6677.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group