NPR’s Science Friday, featured a fascinating story on how octopuses use color to communicate. Marine biologists still have a lot of work ahead to interrupt the various shifting colors octopuses display, but it’s clear their use of color to communicate is more sophisticated than once thought.

Lucky for humans, we have a variety of ways to communicate, thought body language (55%), tone of voice (37%) and words (7%) to convey a complete message when face to face with a fellow human being (or our four-legged friends). Throw in technology and we can communicate, (in almost real time), with anyone anywhere on the planet. But how many of us are aware or think about how we use color to communicate beyond safety and traffic control? (Red for stop, green to go and so on).

The Point?

As an art director and designer, I have to be sensitive to color, their meanings and influence. With nearly 85% of consumers making buying decisions based on color, it’s enough for any designer-marketer to sit up and pay attention.

More Layers Than 50 Shades of Gray.

When it comes to branding your business or non-profit, color makes a difference on how you are perceived and what you are communicating to your audience. Color provokes emotional responses implying to your brand’s personality. Color has a psychology that people consciously or subconsciously use to help identify who you are, what you do and represent as an organization. Color can evoke a wide range of characteristics — from trust, dependability, authority to new, smart, energetic, hip and cutting-edge to name a few.

Because color meanings vary culturally, it’s important to research and evaluate your brand color choices, especially if you’re doing business globally or targeting a specific demographic. For example, Americans have positive (love, boldness, courage, energy) and negative (devil, war, blood) associations with the color red. In China, red is the color of happiness and good fortune, a color never seen at a funeral, but in South Africa, red is the color of mourning.

Take note of treads when making brand color choices. Color and color combinations come and go in and out of favor. The popular “teal and deep purple” color combo of the late 1980s-early 1990s could visually say you’re passé, out-of-touch, if used today. Then again, once old, becomes new again. The vintage colors used in 1950s advertising are used today in branding micro breweries, bike and outdoor recreation stores, any business that wants that nostalgic, retro wholesome feel.


As an example of color and influence, PANTONE, (the color matching system used by creative industries), announces a symbolic “Color of the Year.” Their color selection is based on what is taking place in our culture as an expression of mood and an attitude.

According to PANTONE, “Rose Quartz is a persuasive, yet gentle tone that conveys compassion and a sense of composure. Serenity is weightless and airy, like the expanse of the blue sky above us, bringing feelings of respite and relaxation even in turbulent times.”

Apply Rose Quartz and Serenity to a brand, you would might think luxury and pampering, (jewelry, cosmetics, beauty spa) or flip it to innocence, soft and cuddly as a baby’s line of clothing.

Our use of color to communicate works on different levels, is individually subjective and open to interpretation. It’s complex as the color shifts of one octopus encountering another octopus. Next time you’re picking out a new product, viewing a website or opening a piece of direct mail, notice how color or combination of colors influences your decision to buy (or not to) or your choice to stay engaged.

What is Color Saying about Your Brand?

Given the power color has over our perceptions and attitudes, it’s important to make a clear choice when it comes to your brand. Not sure if your colors are saying what’s true about you, let’s talk.

For all you English Majors out there (including my mom), this what I found on the correct plural of Octopus. Just so you know. The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, the word octopus comes from Greek, and the Greek plural form octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi is mistakenly formed according to rules for Latin plurals, and is therefore incorrect. ~ via my New Oxford American Dictionary app.

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