Tiffany blue. Coke red. McDonald's golden arches.
Color can be a powerful visual branding tool. Color plays on our emotions, and can shape how we feel about the businesses they represent. But the same basic color can be used to tell different brand stories.
Red is the most powerful and intense color. It's usually the first color word a language develops. It reminds us of blood - and that can mean danger, aggression, and violence; or racing hearts, excitement, and love.
It can be a tricky color to utilize well.
Here's how three major brands are doing it.
Coca-Cola red has been in use as early as the 1890s. Frank Robinson, partner and bookkeeper of the creator of Coca-Cola, designed the original logo, and started using red lettering on white backgrounds because he liked the contrast.
What began as a practical color choice to stand out on signage became an iconic part of Americana. Coca-Cola's consistent use of their brand red and white over the past 120+ years has made Coca-Cola a symbol of American life.
(It's interesting to note that Pepsi, Coca-Cola's main competitor, uses red, white and blue in their branding, but Coca-Cola feels more American. The power of branding and marketing, my friends.)
Coke's current marketing use red in one of two ways:
In images with product photography or illustration, the classic flat red and white is used with ample white space, reminiscent of their soda cans, and relying on the power of red and the brand recognition they've built from it.
Coca-Cola's photography has recent shifted to a style that contrasts warm red tones and greenish accents that mimic the classic glass Coke bottle. In these photos, they use the Coca-Cola red in a powerful way that not only shows off Coke red, but evokes feelings of warmth, happiness, and nostalgia.
Where Coca-Cola uses red to produce warm, fuzzy feelings, Time Magazine's use of red does anything but. The imposing and serious logo paired with the red border uses the intensity of red to grab attention, and let you know that this magazine means business.
Often paired with dark and dramatic photography, Time's red stands out on magazines stands and uses bold contrast to grab attention in a crowded market.
In their magazine spreads as well as their website, photography and black and white text dominate the designs, with red being used only to call attention when needed for headers or key pieces of information.
Time's use of black, white and red is indicative of their commitment to traditional journalism. The use of bold red is used as a symbol of how serious the magazine takes itself, and the topics it covers.
Time doesn't mess around, and neither does red.
Pinterest is an unique look at the use of red: because Pinterest doesn't use much of its visual brand. Because the platform is all about gathering images and creating digital inspiration boards, the visual brand has to take a back seat and let the functionality and purpose drive 90% of the design.
Yet, with such a minimal visual brand, the brand color is red - one of the most intense colors you can use. Why?
According to the logo designers who created the current Pinterest logo, they were aiming for a casual but carefully crafted feeling. They also wanted a feeling of nostalgia. As we noted with Coca-Cola, candy apple red feels very classic.
Not only does red lend a nostalgic feeling to the visual brand, but it also commands attention even in small designs. This allows the logo and notifications of Pinterest to stay small in the design environment, but still hold their own in a sea of images.
A Powerful Choice
Even though these three brands use red to create different feelings, all of them leveraged the power of red to create a dynamic visual brand.
Coca-Cola uses the power of red to weave itself into American culture.
Time uses the power of red to stand out on magazine racks and add gravity to their bold journalism.
Pinterest uses the power of red to create minimalist user experience that still packs a punch.
Red may be a hard color to utilize well in visual branding, but when used skillfully, it's a powerful choice.
Are you a small business owner in need of a visual brand?
Check out my Noteworthy Visual Brand Starter Kit.
I'm a brand designer who helps business owners who are tired of their marketing efforts just pulling "okay" results. I help them stand out and be remembered online by designing them a Noteworthy Visual Brand that attract their ideal clients - effortlessly.