Why names and colours matter – for the gee gees and brands

* 4 min read

This weekend, millions of people across the country will be watching the Grand National. Approximately a quarter of the UK adult population will place a bet, but most of them won’t choose which horse to back based on their experience or likelihood of winning. Many of them will pick based on the name of the horse or the colour of the jockey’s silk. 

Today, we’re looking at the fascinating impact that names and colours have on our perceptions, how important it is to get them right for products - and what this means for packaging design.

What’s in a name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

This is a powerful message from Romeo and Juliet – that beauty transcends the labels that we place on it. Unfortunately when it comes to buying a product, it’s not really true.

The name is the cornerstone of a brand. It is how it identifies itself, how it differentiates itself from others, and how it communicates its core message. It is in many cases the first interaction a consumer will have with the brand, and leaves a lasting first impression.

You will see it at Aintree this weekend. Horses with wonderfully imaginative and occasionally ridiculous names will take to the race tracks and compete for that esteemed prize. It’s not the horses and their capabilities that people care about; very few people watching have the knowledge and skills to assess which horses actually stand a chance of winning. Instead they will cheer for “The Last Samuri” because it has a cool name that appeals to them.

The same principle applies to products. A name can express what benefits that products brings and build that initial desire. This is why we ended up seeing BlackBerry phones instead of “ProMail” or “MegaMail” phones. These bland impersonal names were dropped by Research In Motion in favour of the natural, healthy and pleasant-sounding berry.

Occasionally a name will take off and change our language: Google have essentially redefined the dictionary definition of their name to mean using their search engine. And sometimes it can go wrong, like when Irish Mist liqueur was launched in Germany apparently not realising that “Mist” means manure in German.

All of this goes to show that names aren’t something you should pluck out of thin air. Get it right, and you can succinctly and elegantly express the core benefits of your brand. Get it wrong, and you will fall behind.

The power of colour

When the horses are galloping down the track at over 30 miles per hour, the field turns into splendid blur of bright colours from the jockeys’ silks. It’s a spectacular display of how colour enriches our lives, helps us understand the world, and grabs our attention.

Colour is not only capable of beauty - it is also a personal and subjective experience. If you put three people into a light booth and show them the exact same colour, all of them will view it differently. How the colour makes them feel, what they associate it with, and what other colours it fits with will have parts in common and parts that are unique to individual.

Of course this has a huge affect on how we perceive a product, something which many brands have sought to capitalise on. Coca Cola Red and Cadbury’s Purple are both colours that the brands have researched, tested, and standardised across their products. An enormous amount of work has gone into assessing the emotional impact of these colours, how they change with different lighting conditions, and how manufacturing processes can deliver the perfect colour every time. All with the goal of getting consumers to immediately associate the colour with the brand as soon as they see it.

Crafting the perfect first impression means understanding the role that colour plays in forming our perceptions, and ensuring you can consistently and effectively deliver the perfect colour for the brand.

Key lessons

Next time you visit a shop, or eat at a restaurant, or watch the Grand National, take a moment to appreciate how names and colours try to grab your attention and convey an idea or emotion. You’ll discover the extent to which names and colours matter, and how fiercely brands compete to get the best impact.

While you could certainly pick your name by opening up a dictionary at a random page, or select a colour that looks about right in Photoshop, you’ll struggle to compete against brands that put more thought into how they can consistently reach out and draw in customers this way.

Much like the thousands of people betting on the Grand National, most people don’t have time to research the product and weigh up the costs and benefits – they care about how it looks, how it feels, and what it says. And that’s where a good name and impactful colours come into play, whether it’s horses, or your brand.