Monday, October 27, 2008

Coloring the Cause

Silicon wristbands adorn celebrities in a commercial for the ONE Campaign.

Recently, while brewing up the idea for this post, I began to think of the color associations that are attached to causes. I starting asking family and friends questions like, “What is this first word that comes to mind when I say breast cancer? How about AIDS? And the environment?” Though some answers elicited personal responses, most where exactly what I expected. To the breast cancer question the popular response was PINK. To AIDS RED, and the environment was a definite GREEN.

Color is extremely important to our senses, each color is assigned a certain symbolic meaning or emotion. Red represents strong emotions such as love and aggression. White is a symbol of purity. Yellow is a happy color associated with joy, but can also represent jealousy and deceit. Purple is the color of royalty; blue is the color of peace. Brown represents the earth, while green is associated with nature. Every color extracts an emotional response, which people use to appropriately convey their feelings.

Color association is important to a companies marketing and branding strategy. For some tangible products color might not be of the top-most importance, but still remains a factor in the development, improvement and marketing of a product. For other industries, color renders an emotional response in consumers, making color association necessary to the success of the product. The automobile industry relies heavily on color association. Though the same car can come many colors, people often base their selection of a new car on the message they want their car to produce. A black Mercedes is sleek, suave and classic. A red Ferrari is sporty, fast and rich. A yellow Volkswagen Beetle is happy, fun, and carefree. A silver Lexus is flashy and expensive. A white Cadillac Escalade is sturdy and powerful. Change the color of these specific cars and the emotional response to the car would change. This emotional response is extremely important in the current era of consumer control. Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, explains the era of consumer control in his Lovemarks concept. Roberts has three qualities that create Lovemarks: mystery, sensuality and intimacy. Sensuality involves the five senses, and color is a key factor in creating impact on the consumer.

This leads me to non-profit organizations and causes. Branding and marketing for these organizations is extremely different from for-profit companies that have tangible products to sell. The non-profit industry has taken to branding their causes through color association, and the result color association produces has created miracles for these causes. I might be able to loosely associate some brands, such as the car brands above, with color, but I always associate cause brands to their respective colors. Think the green movement, the latest cause/color phenomenon. The market today is filled with green. Green started as an environmental awareness campaign, which has been pushed over into the for-profit industry. Ultimately, the green movement goes back to one single cause, the environment, but its impact has been the worldwide market. Companies have realized the selling potential of this cause and tapped into the green trend because the green movement created consumers that demanded companies to support the cause. This is non-profit marketing at it’s finest.

So what does color association actually do for non-profit causes? Color gives the cause a tangible association, something the cause itself cannot give. Color gives the cause a visual identity in the eyes of consumers. When a cause can take one color and own it, such as breast cancer, then the color does not simply represent the cause; the color becomes the essence of the cause. Pink is not just a color anymore; it’s a brand. The Wall Street Journal talks about color association for non-profits in the article, “MSDS Suggests 5 Essentials to Building an Effective Non-Profit Brand: Storytelling, consistency, targeting and knowledge of communications mediums key to developing strong, long-lasting non-profit brands, saying,

“Repeating key messaging, colors and images will not only bring your brand to life, it will allow it to be easily recognizable to your audience. Repetition instills trust and speeds recall. When a non-profit brand demonstrates consistency, the organization's donors are more likely to believe their money is being put to good use, remain engaged, and respond positively to communications.”

Color also gives non-profit organizations a profitable product to support the cause and raise monies for the organization. In the summer of 2004, The Lance Armstrong Foundation started the silicon bracelet fad that raised millions of dollars for the foundation, and became a worldwide fundraising phenomenon. I remember starting college that August and learning about the fad. Within a month, I had six or seven silicon bracelets in all different colors, each representing a different cause. These types of products allow non-profits to give a tangible product to donors that continue to create awareness while the product is in use, a win-win situation. More recently, Product Red used consumer products to raise money for AIDS relief. The campaign for the Global Fund had companies such the Gap, Armani, Apple and Motorola produce red consumer products such as iPods, watches, phones and clothing that supported AIDS relief in Africa. A portion of the profits of these custom products went to the organization. In the market for an iPod at the time, I am a proud owner of a magnificent red iPod Nano. Other organizations have used their color to produce t-shirts and other related consumer items that have become popular to raise additional money and support for their cause.

The color of a cause has truly become apart of the brand for the organization. Working at a local promotions firm as an intern a couple of summers ago gave me experience with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization for breast cancer. During this experience I realized how important color association was to non-profits. I remember preparing media packages for the organization in bright pink folders. About halfway through, I’d estimate that as about a thousand folders, the agency realized that the folders where not the correct shade of pink. This caused pandemonium. Each folder had to be undone and new folders where ordered, all because Susan G. Komen uses a very specific shade of pink to represent their brand. At the time it seemed ridiculous; I now understand that the use of the wrong color would be like spelling the organizations name wrong. The color was important, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s pink is different from the shade used by The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. This gives each organization for breast cancer it’s own identity, which is important to its success, but the general use of pink allows these organizations work together for awareness.

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