The Many Colors of Branding Success

An interactive exploration of the use of brand colors across Fortune's lists of most successful companies.
Colorful circles

Every year, Fortune ranks the world’s top companies across a range of criteria. Looking at the classic Fortune 100, the more recent list of Unicorns (private startups that are valued at $1 billion or more), and other lists, we were curious to see how color was used in the brand identities of these successful companies. Here’s what we found.

Most Popular Brand Colors: The Fortune 100

Bright red has strong presence across the Fortune 100 list. From Honeywell to 3M, these companies don’t shy away from this energetic pop of color in their corporate identity, especially industrial technology brands.

Did you know… Red can actually have a physical effect on people, raising blood pressure and respiration rates. One theory why: it helped primates distinguish ripe fruits from the inedible ones. In other words, we are literally wired to pay attention to the color red.

Most Popular Brand Colors: Unicorns

Frank Sinatra once said, “Orange is the happiest color.” He was on to something. Brands often choose to incorporate orange into their logos as a way of infusing a sense of fun, warm exuberance, and approachability — fitting for many of the brands on Fortune’s Unicorns list. Technology start-ups are keen to be viewed as disruptive, but in a positive, appealing way, so orange is a natural pick.

Did you know… The color orange is named after the citrus fruit (and not the other way around) – before the sixteenth century when this word came around, the color was simply referred to in Old English as ġeolurēad, or yellow-red.

Most Popular Brand Colors: Fastest Growing Companies

Green had a strong presence amongst the fastest growing companies. This is particularly appropriate given the color’s association with new beginnings and growth. In brand design, green can have a balancing and harmonizing effect, combining many of the same calming attributes of blue with some of the energy of yellow.

Did you know… American paper money has been green ever since the first one-dollar bill debuted in 1862, and, worldwide, greenbacks connote wealth and capitalism. While there is no definite answer as to why green, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing offers a theory: when the bill design we’re familiar with today was introduced in 1929, green pigment was readily available in large quantities, and it was fairly resistant to chemical and physical changes.

Most Popular Brand Colors: Most Admired Companies

Because of its solidity and neutrality, black is the typographic choice of many companies on this list. Black can signify power, elegance and formality, and it’s easy to deploy across a range of applications.

Did you know… in Japan and Great Britain, black cats are considered to be good luck.

Most Popular Brand Colors: Best Workplaces for Millennials

We may be a little biased, but we couldn’t help but notice a consistent lack of purple across all of these lists. Purple has long been associated with royalty, as well as creativity and imagination. This seems like a great opportunity for any brand looking to stand out, especially with millennials.

Did you know… The ancient city of Phoenicia (on a Greek island) means Land of the Purple. This is believed to be where purple was first produced.

The elephant in the room, of course, is blue, the most widely used brand color in corporate America. It’s comfortable and classic — and since 40% of people claim it as their favorite color, it’s unlikely to offend anyone. We looked at ubiquity of this perennial brand favorite in our post Stuck on Blue.

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