Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jun 26, 2015

Cannes 2015: The sensory science of colour, and why Adidas uses purple

CANNES - Colours used in a product or campaign can instantly engage or disengage your customer—in fact 85 per cent in one survey said colour was a primary reason why they made a purchase.

(L-R): Buzasi, O'Brien, Box, Pross, Sun
(L-R): Buzasi, O'Brien, Box, Pross, Sun

Yet according to speakers from Adidas, Illamasqua, CNCSCOLOR, WGSN and CTIC, vastly different sensory versus scientific approaches to colour selection make for a fuzzy marketing challenge.

Colour does not exist, maintained Alex Box, make-up artist and creative director of makeup brand Illamasqua. In the same way we process sounds and smells, the human brain converts light to colour.

"I have such an emotional resonance with colour, it is impossible to quantify it," she said. "It is not to be bound by impetus. I work on colour holistically. Colour needs light to be seen, so it’s like rediscovering who you would be if no one was looking at you."

For big brands though, it can be difficult to make a billion-dollar colour decision based purely on emotion. The challenge is compounded when considering the range of physical and digital properties a brand colour must stay true across, said Carla Buzasi, global chief content officer of WGSN. The importance of colour cannot be underestimated when it comes to creative and manufacturing industries, but it remains underexplored territory, she said.

Colour may not be readily quantifiable, but Kathryn O'Brien, senior creative director at Adidas, said it is about "taking what is measurable then bringing in the intuition to support it". Commerciality does not have to be boring; indeed, it should be beautiful, she said. 

O'Brien's intuition almost got herself thrown out of the window after three days of 'colour meetings' when she suggested Adidas use purple.

"Colour is such a personal thing, but to meld this with commerciality and balance it with creative impact is like getting a colour-blind person to explain his or her world of colour," said O'Brien.

There is of course duality to colour. Black, for instance, can signal death but can also represent sophistication. "I try not to have any conversations around 'I dont like purple', but look at dualities and put them either in or out of context. That’s how we get innovation using colour," said O'Brien.

Lots of brands want to be associated with one colour for the long term, but Adidas decided to go with one colour per season. "We were getting known to be a 'black and white' brand. We wanted to dig into this idea of colour being an emotion. We thought sport is incredibly emotional, so we wanted to stand for that emotion and represent that with colour," said O'Brien.

For Detlev Pross, head of CNCSCOLOR based in Shanghai, colour branding is about the perception of the target group. So what is perception about? 83 per cent of our perception comes from visual senses, and over half of those visual senses is derived from colour. he said. When ANZ transformed its ATMS into GAYTMs, colour was used in an unexpected place where colour was not expected.

"You don’t really have to explain a lot," he said. What is more important? The dimensions of colour: lightness and chroma, and how it is now possible to do "limbic segmentation" with those dimensions," Pross said.
For brands, this means they create the same colour character and style with consistent lightness and chroma. "Would I, as a brand, simply rely on the intuition and feelings of a designer? Not so, I would like to prove it. You can pick red for example, but if you pick the wrong lightness and chroma, you are conveying the wrong emotion to consumers," he pointed out.

In China though, no one really uses colour as a driver for business, admitted Sun Ruizhe, the vice president of CNTAC (the National Textile Apparel Council of China) and chairman of CTIC (China Textile Information Center).

For this reason, a joint venture between WGSN China and CTIC was signed on the back of Cannes Lions to provide colour trend services in Chinese to fabric manufacturers, retailers, consumer electronics firms and entertainment companies. In the deal CTIC will look to exploit WGSN's international sales and marketing expertise.


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