Brand Colour. Brand Traps. Brand Nirvana

30 Jun,2021



By Sanjeev Kotnala


Sanjeev KotnalaI believe in ‘Smash the brand’ (Martin Lindstrom thinking) the way McDonald’s did in 2018. But before one can even think to ‘smash a brand’ or reaching such a ‘Brand Nirvana’ stage, the brand must own multiple visual elements. Brand colour is one of them.


I tried this argument with the agency and told them the need for a brand colour paletteto dominate our creative units to build familiarity and recognition. The verbal nail and visual hammer – Laura Ries thinking.


The agency wanted another ‘Campaign Colour’ to differentiate from past communication. To make a point, the agency shared Nike creative. Their underlying message, ‘Nike uses many colours even if Black & White is in their DNA’.


Well, I understand it was a defensive pushback. The agency does understand the process of brand milestones and gradual liberation from constraints. Brand Colour is a critical branding and marketing tool. The brand colours communicate emotions, feelings, and experiences.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, said, “colours are the mother tongue of the subconscious.’

In marketing language, colour speaks for the brand’s identity and personality, an essential cue for familiarity, and can impact purchase intent.


Vermajee says

Almost as a habit, I reached out to my friend and consultant Vermajee to discuss the subject. Despite being drowsy with aftereffects of the second dose of CovidShield, Vermajee agreed to a zoom call, and this is what he said.



After providing a viable engaging solution to the consumer’s relevant overt or latent need, the first role of the brand is creating awareness and familiarity. Using functional, emotional, contextual, and comparative levers to answer why to prefer or pay a premium for it. In the process, the brand consistently adheres to various visual elements and verbal tonalities to create the desired recognition.


Only after reaching a level of recognition, familiarity, and popularity, it may be free of these constraints. Just because brands like McDonald’s, Google, and Pepsi can play with their logo, all brands cannot follow the path.


Brand Colour can be a Trap

The route to brand communication Nirvana, the stage of complete freedom, is full of iterations. Every brand must find its own solution.

For example, a brand starts using colour as a dominant visual representation. Soon the association becomes apparent and more robust. The brand colour helps the brand to break media clutter. Soon it becomes a strong association. People think of the brand whenever they see the colour. And the trap is shut. The brand is unable to unshackle the links and associations. Anything that the brand sticks with long invests in creating association- be it a colour, shape,

format, template, tonalities or cues- can become a trap.

Gurudev Osho had a story for this. In a village, a person stood on one leg because he was suffering from some problem. He continued to remain standing on one leg- every day. Soon, a business ecosystem of ‘Eek Tang Waala Baba’ (one-legged saint) started around him. He also liked the attention- so he continued standing on one leg. But after many days, one day, he wanted to rest his leg, but now he could not do anything of his free will. The ecosystem around him refused. Many lives were directly linked to him standing on one leg.


Own it before Discarding it

And here, I remember Gurudev Osho in his book Sambhog Se Samadhi Tak, simplified the thought. He says: ‘Saanyas is not giving up. Sanyaas is playing with it so much, being deep with the thought-idea-act-desire that after some time, it does not matter you have it or not. Sanyaas is lack of wanting’

The path for a brand to reach this level of physical familiarity, preference, and positive vibes is consistency. The brand must work at owning the visual and verbal property. It must be ruthlessly fanatic and consistent in adhering and exploiting these associations at every opportunity till a stage comes when nothing matters.

Honestly, If you remove the logo from Nike communication, one would still reasonably identify the brand. Yes, Nike has black & white in its DNA, but the brand owns a promise and an attitude that defines it more than anything else. Having spent relentless years – media money on that focused attitude gives Nike the freedom to do whatever it wants.


Nirvana not for Everyone

Like life, everyone does not have to have a purpose in life. Not everyone reaches

the stages of tranquillity and peace with meditation. Only a few reach Nirvana. The others can and must not attempt to mirror their way of life and behaviour; they will not last long.

Similarly, brands may want to reach the stage of creative freedom away from colours,

tonalities, mediums, commentaries, social interaction – not everyone gets there. Sone attains this status by being the dominant representative of the category. Some because they acquire fanatic fan following – like a religious sect. Then Nirvana happens. Then the absolute freedom is gained. The brand (still within some constraints) can do whatever it wants. The colour and the formats are the least of the problems.


Pure Nirvana Never Happens

When you free yourself of something; you bind yourself to something else. That is how life is. And brands are no different. So, as you grow stronger and stronger in associations and following, you become more rigid in your expression.

The expectations get more defined. The brand experience must meet the expectations. The gap between expectation and experience must become negligible. Think of RED BUL, Burger King, Virgin, and you get the picture.

Unfortunately, the only way to get out of constraints like colour, shape, tone, format etc., is to follow relentlessly till they become a habit and not a necessity. And brand gets the freedom it deserves.


More Freedom by Stronger Association

For a better brand life of nearly complete freedom, there is just one way out. Own

an attitude, a mindset, an emotion, not necessarily a purpose. The stronger the brand is associated with these intangibles, the freer it will be to leverage and amplify them. It will help the brand reach almost creative Nirvana, brand nirvana in a creative sense.


Till Brand Nirvana happens, be consistent with your brand’s verbal and visual language and keep course-correcting them with the emerging ecosystem.


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