Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year…
Should It Affect Your Marketing? Depends on What You Do.
“ Greenery is a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore and renew. Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate. Greenery is nature’s neutral.” – Pantone
The 18th annual Pantone Color of the Year has been announced— Greenery #15-0343. It was decided in a secret meeting held somewhere in Europe, attended by anonymous representatives from a number of nations. They observed and tracked trends and influences across several industries (fashion, film, technology, art, travel) for months, presented and debated the options, and finally, made their choice. Although the Color of the Year becomes more influential every year in manufacturing, home, and fashion, that secrecy doesn’t win them much support with people such as Lauren Labrecque, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago, who has authored several papers on the importance of color in marketing. “I don’t put too much stock into it, mainly due to the fact that there is little transparency,” Labrecque says. “That said, I think the color of the year is important for some people and industries—those who follow trends.”
Labrecque’s extensive research has led her to conclude that color is crucial in marketing and that it can be used strategically to help craft and reinforce brand personalities— a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand name and allow the consumer to better relate with the brand. There are five main dimensions of brand personality that are commonly used: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness. Labrecque’s research examined the relationship between these brand personality perceptions and color— specifically hues, saturation, and value. She found that they are all important for communicating brand personality.
Colors, in fact, influence us all on a daily basis. We’re just not always aware of it. “Color tells us if a strawberry is ripe, if food has gone bad, or if something may be poisonous, such as snakes,” Labrecque says. “Some of the early color work in psychology examined physiological effects and found certain colors can raise or lower blood pressure or brain activity.” She cites an article detailing how some railway stations in Japan have changed their lights to a more calming blue in an effort to curb suicides, and saw an 84 percent decline.
With all this research on colors, why might a designer or creative director look at what an anonymous committee says is the “it” color? For Bryan Torgerson, a freelance creative director who has worked on brands such as CVS/pharmacy and Bose, “the Pantone selection is interesting, but I also look for color trends, specifically on Behance, Pinterest, or Coolors.”
Behance.net is a website to showcase and discover creative work, and Coolors.co is an online color-scheme generator. Both Labrecque and Torgerson say knowing your audience is the first step to deciding how “trendy” you can be with your brand colors. “If you are going to be the designer who brings the 80s color palette back, that product or brand better be known as cutting-edge, or your decision to go with those colors will be perceived as old and dated,” Torgerson says.
Labrecque also authored a paper examining color norms for various product categories and found that whether a brand should be distinct or follow category trends really depends on the category and whether there is a dominant leader. “If a brand already has a strong color identity, I wouldn’t let it be impacted by the Color of the Year,” she advises. “While a brand may choose to offer bags or packaging or product variations in the trending color, I wouldn’t change anything at the core.”
So if you aren’t sold on adopting the Pantone Color of the Year into your brand profile, what steps should you take to decide on a color scheme? Start with competitor analysis within the industry, and don’t be a follower. You can also peruse one of the many studies that explain the physiological meaning of colors and how people feel when they see them.
“I think creatives should be aware of it, but it shouldn’t overtake other factors,” Labrecque says of Pantone’s yearly choice. “I also believe that its importance varies on the context. The Color of the Year is much more important for hedonic categories, such as fashion, than for utilitarian categories, such as cars or kitchen appliances.”