Color Series: Stuck on Blue

An exploration of the meaning and connotations of the color blue in culture and business.
blue ribbon

“We’re looking for a unique brand color for our company. We really want to stand out.”

“Well, red would really differentiate your company.”

“Can’t use red. The CEO hates red. He hates orange, too.”

“How about green? Green has very strong positive associations and….”

“Nope. We don’t want to look like we’re jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon.”

“Purple is unique…”

“Are you kidding? You might as well suggest pink.”

“Well, pink WOULD stand out…”

“We all like blue. Let’s go with blue.”

There’s no denying the popularity of blue in corporate America.  With its connotations of clear skies, clean water and the national flag (not to mention blue jeans, our national uniform), it’s a natural choice. And since 40% of people claim it as their favorite color, it’s unlikely to offend anyone.

But blue hasn’t always had the same connotations it has today. For example, in contemporary America, we associate blue with baby boys, but in the early 1900s, blue was considered a delicate and girlish color while pink was thought to be a stronger color more appropriate for boys. (In Belgium, this is still the case.)

For centuries, blue was a rare color. Before industrialization led to the chemical mass production of dyes and pigments, it was made from hard-to-find minerals and elements (such as cobalt, which can be toxic), and was an expensive luxury. So blue was associated with royalty, authority and power.

Culturally, blue can have different meanings in different parts of the world. In American politics it connotes left-leaning, but in the United Kingdom, blue is the official color of the conservative party. In Germany, “being blue” (“blau sein”) means being drunk.

In truth, blue has so many meanings and references it’s nearly innocuous. Feeling blue, once in a blue moon, blue-ribbon quality — for every negative connotation there are two or more positive ones. No wonder it remains the top choice for corporate brands.

Of course, one pitfall of popularity is ubiquity.  Blue may still connote power and authority, but it’s no longer rare. In our next color post, we’ll look at the pervasive use of blue in financial services brands.

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