colour rules, ok!

Is it just me or does colour seem to be taking an ever-increasing role our lives?

I have noticed this particularly when on a flight at night;  the landing strip is awash with colours which I’m sure were never there before.   Similarly, these days motorways seem to have variously coloured cats’ eyes in contrast to the white ones in the centre of the road when I took my test (yes, it was a long time ago)  –  red, amber, green and even blue.

This is because colour is the most rapid, and therefore the most effective, way to direct us.  (Words are the least effective form of communication.)  Colour tells us when to stop and when to go.  We are instructed by the colour of lights, the colour of lines, the colour of signs.  We know the purpose of an emergency vehicle by colour alone; we know the role of a uniformed figure by the colours of that uniform.  All forms of safety systems operate within highly specific colour codes.  Different colours inform us if technology is in operation or on standby, if there is a problem with the process and, if so, what needs to be done.

Status is colour themed.  Credit cards and money are colour graded.  Colour is of such importance to the business of brand identification and marketing that specific colours are patented by companies to ensure sole use.  Companies plough vast amounts of money into researching how people react to colour because successful colour choice can lead to stunningly successful sales; if the research is incorrect, the results can be disastrous.  Fortunes have been lost simply by choosing the wrong colour for a new product.  Did you hear the one about the Irish beer company that wanted to increase its Hong Kong sales? They brought out a new brand, named ‘Green Hat Beer’.  It never sold because the Chinese phrase describing a man in a green hat means that man is a cuckold*.  It is literally about the colour of money.

Colour is in a constant conversation with us.

A quick question:  would you go out this time of year dressed in red and green –                  or would you be worried about your elf and safety? (tee hee)





*as told in ‘Living Colour‘ Rossbach, S & Yun, L, 1994, Kodansha International, p15-16


  1. It’s so interesting when companies use colour to boost sales. Has anyone done it better than the red and yellow of McDonalds (and I mean the marketting, not the food…)?


  2. As a garden designer I use colour primarily to attract pollinating insects, yellows, blues and purple, (my least personal favorite colour) then I chose a colour palette to reflect the personality or favorite colour theme chosen by the client.
    As in painting the effects that colours and hues have by manipulating spacial depth and height, helping to draw the eye from the foreground and navigate through a vegetative environment, an aid to design.
    Interesting that red and yellow are the most dangerous colour additives in food…………. says a lot about McDonald’s food(???)

    Janice Shales


  3. You must be the ultimate artist as a garden designer – with a palette of majestic infinity! Insects and birds can also see ultra-violet can’t they, as a vital signage system, which is more than we can.

    Never knew that about red and yellow in foods (this is why I love this stuff!). Thank you for that, Janice. It certainly does say a lot about McDonalds food. Did you know (I did not) that McDonalds is retreating slightly from it’s trademark primary red and yellow. Its Eueopean sales were dropping markedly a few years ago and a research company came up with the solution: the company was not perceived as ‘green’ enough. And so, from 2009, in Germany, France and the UK, green has been introduced into their colouring. To be specific, ‘a deeper hunter green’ to be merged into the red and yellow and specifically behind the yellow M. Haven’t noticed it myself.

    Will definitely be blogging about purple at some stage – my Mother always refused to wear it, even ‘when she was old ..’ . Is it your least favourite colour in gardens, or in general?


  4. Strangely enough, I never have really internalised the colours of McDonalds. Thinking about it, the red and yellow are obviously primary colours, in terms of painting, suggesting lack of sophistication, affordability, appeal to children, no frills. They are also very welcoming colours, suggesting hearth and home, a warm invite in. Have a look at Janice’s comment – really interesting – from a gardener’s point of view.

    Successful colour marketing for me brings to mind Cadbury and purple, which the company first used in the early 20th Century. It must have been such an unusual colour choice at the time, as it is a very ‘high’ colour, suggesting nobility and sophistication, a product of supreme quality. Hence, Cadbury would not have had many rivals for the colour from within the food industry. It was a brilliant choice. Testament to the success of the colour and its link to the Cadbury brand, in Oct Cadbury lost its 5-year legal fight to prevent Nestle from using the ‘Cadbury purple’. “Our colour purple has been linked with Cadbury for a century and the British public has grown up understanding its link with our chocolate’, said a spokesperson.
    When it works, it really works.


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