Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Color that’s Worth $80,000,000

A reader asked what shade of green I specified for the bank in the previous blog post. Before I answer that, here’s a story about a multi-million dollar color:

The right shade of blue can be worth $80 million – at least that’s what they say about Bing’s blue link color. Microsoft’s research team found that blue engaged people the most and they tested various shades of blue in user groups. First, they determined that their previous shade of blue (a paler hue) lacked confidence. Finally, they wound up with a shade of blue quite similar to the one used by Google. Based on user feedback, the team estimated the best blue color could generate $80 million to $90 million in ad sales.

By the way, you’ve probably been a guinea pig for Google’s analysis of the click-through rate of different link colors. Gmail’s users were randomly tested with 40 different link colors, ranging from “blue-with-greenish” to “blue-with-blue-ish.” Google discovered that blue-ish links encouraged more clicking than greenish. (Have you noticed that Gmail uses a slightly different shade of blue for its links than the main Google search page?)

My take on this is that HTML links were originally a similar shade of blue – a strong vivid blue with great contrast on a white background. Perhaps we're just hard-wired to click on blue. Is there really such a difference between #0044CC and #2200CC as to have a noticeable effect? What do you think? Also, aside from those blues, which color would make you click more?

This raises a provocative design question: Should the best color for links be a pure design decision made by someone with strong expertise in design, psychology, and human-computer interaction or should it be determined by an (unintentional) vote among users?

Back to the question about the specific shade of green for that bank: It was not a stodgy green, not a stereotypical banker’s green, NOT that overused green that is used for every eco call to action, and not pure RGB green #00FF00. It was a very special green that can’t be revealed due to confidentiality clauses for this project. However, it is worth noting that the logo design included a small color accent and that the new green created the right harmonious relationships. Always remember that colors never exist in isolation. It may be as simple as blue text on a white background, or pure green next to yellow on a dark green background.

In conclusion, do you think that green can be worth as much as that the blue link color? Consider the phenomenal success Heinz EZ Squirt Blastin' Green ketchup. More than 10 million bottles were sold in the first seven months following its introduction. The result: $23 million in sales - the highest sales increase in the brand's history.

But what about a specific shade of green? What if you could trademark “your green” and prevent others from using it? Would that be worth more than a billion dollars? Here’s an answer: BP, one of the world's largest energy companies, was denied a trademark for green. Here's why: Link

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Working with Color: Bailouts and Branding

I love interviews with the press because there’s always one challenging question that requires a good answer. Last week, the interviewer asked, “How do you get your color consultation projects?” I replied that half the time, there’s a color disaster underway and someone contacts me. Typically, “the boss” has chosen his or her favorite color for the logo (or the product, packaging, etc.) and a member of the staff senses that there is something terribly wrong with the choice.

One of my recent projects is a perfect example of these color bailouts: In this case, the CEO had chosen purple for the bank’s new logo and all collateral material. The V-P questioned whether purple was appropriate and provided a list of the attributes that the logo color should communicate: simplicity, ease of access, multiple access points, state of the art technology, and ecological awareness. As for demographics, the customers ranged from GenY to Baby Boomers in the mid-west, (U.S.). Yes, she was right about her color intuition. Although purple does align itself with high technology, it would fail to address all the other critical criteria for a bank. My ten-page documentation presented an objective analysis of purple and a specification for the best color. (By the way, the nice part of this business is knowing that you can mediate a dispute with rational information – and you always gain some insights about the mysterious and compelling world of personal color preferences.)

Another situation unfolds when the color selection has been placed in the hands of the pigment or paint chemists and someone in another department raises a red flag. For example, it wasn’t very long ago that the colors for pills came out of the lab – and these colors typically had no logical connection to color communication and the consumer. Consider this: The "Golden Rule" in pharmaceuticals is to select colors that represent the cure, not the malady. Picture a grey anti-depressant tablet - and then think about what color should be avoided for a sleeping pill. (See Taking the Colors of Medications Seriously)

As for the rest of my color projects, I’m usually involved before a product is rolled out and long before there’s a problem. In recent years, golf carts, computer hardware, medications, garbage cans, and even toilet plungers have been part of the mix. However, just when it seemed that most of my focus was on branding and marketing, an architectural project arrived and I wound up analyzing paint scrapings under a microscope and specifying paint colors for a historical restoration.

The only thing that challenges me about this work is that I have to shut down my personal passions for colors and stick to objective criteria. I’ll admit that yellow has always been my favorite color and that other colors drift into my personal kaleidoscope – colors like tomato red and tender shades of teal. But this is my personal agenda and I’d never apply it to the real world of color consultation.