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Where Can Color Take Your Brand?

Updated on Monday, August 25, 2014 at 11:44AM by Registered CommenterCFM team

Color can transport a brand from bland to Boom!

A great example is Sherwin-Williams, a brand that generated about as much excitement as watching paint dry. Now it's colorful TV ads have injected freshness and vitality into its paint products. Watching them is like looking through a kaleidoscope.

Airing on stations such as HGTV, where people are watching and imagining how to spruce up their tired kitchens or bedrooms, Sherwin-Williams ads feature expressive use of color and design. Their TV ads qualify as visual art and they have the same purpose as art – to fire the imagination of viewers. 

There are differences in paint quality, which matter. But the real puzzle consumers want to solve is what colors to choose to warm up rooms that are cold and stale. Sherwin-Williams turns its ads into invitations to plunge into its world of color and leave inhibition behind.

Sherwin-Williams isn't the first or last company that spins the color wheel to separate itself from its competition in a commodity market. Target staged a major turnaround, going from a disdained discount store to an attractive go-to shopping center by emphasizing color – on its walls and in its products. 

The explosion of color, it seems, is everywhere. Go to a sporting goods store and look at the wide spectrum of colors for T-shirts and yoga pants. Once the preserve of black, white and gray, sports apparel now comes in colors once reserved for neon signs.

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Free Drinks? Tell Me More

In the scramble to conquer social media, some marketers have forgotten the latent power of the out-of-favor direct mail letter.

Snail mail, disdained as old school, has ironically cleared out the mailbox for smart direct mail solicitations.

Portland Center Stage got it right in its recent letter pitching subscriptions to its upcoming season of shows. "Free drinks? Check. $30 tix for friends? Check. Monthly payment plans? Check. We offer all kinds of sweet perks for our season ticket-holders."

The letter goes on to list "10 things we'd like you to know about season tickets," including your own personal ticket agent, access to best seats and virtual valet e-service.

The letter even shares a "Fun Fact" – tickets are printed with heat, not ink. "We use a special thermal paper that changes color when exposed to heat. If you drag your fingernail across the ticket, it will generate enough heat to leave a faint line. Ooohhh. Even our tickets are magic."

The conversational, enthusiastic tone is matched by on-the-money information about the value of being a season ticket-holder. The letter isn't splashy. In fact, it isn't even illustrated. A mailer describing the PCS 2014-2015 lineup was enclosed. (Who wouldn’t be enticed by "The People's Republic of Portland," written by Lauren Weedman, a former "correspondent" on The Daily Show.)

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Great Websites Strike a Balance

Websites that balance simplicity with consistency are the most effective. Science says so.

Consistency is important from a usability standpoint. Website visitors bring certain expectations when visiting a typical website. According to a recent article on, “Prototypicality is the basic mental image your brain creates to categorize everything you interact with. From furniture to websites, your brain has created a template for how things should look and feel.”

That is why most websites in a particular category share a similar layout. When designing a website, be sure to research what others in your sector are doing. It’s important that your website feels familiar to users, especially in terms of where to find certain items.

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Users Become the Brand

A 60-second TV ad centers on parenthood and Apple's iPhone5s, the constant companion to monitor a child in a crib, show a toddler how to brush teeth and find a stray dog. It is an example of users becoming the brand.

The ad doesn't show off spiffy features of the smartphone; it showcases how users use it. The ad leaves parents wondering how they could live without an iPhone, not how much it costs.

This isn't a new concept for Apple, which has devoted more of its marketing mojo to benefits than features. But this ad goes further. It is a primer on how people use the iPhone. It is an ad chocked full of content, not claims.

Content marketing is already an established thrust online.  But it almost seems foreign to the basic idea and execution of TV advertising. 

As content-driven strategies have gained strength, advertising has been relegated to brand reinforcement. The Apple parenthood ad shows advertising can brim with content, too.

The ad also signals a movement toward creating connections, not desires. Snappy car ads want to lure you into a showroom, but Apple's ad brings the iPhone into your house, to address your everyday problems and challenges.

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When Is Clever Too Clever?

Ever since "man bites dog," we have understood that unusual attracts attention. But when is clever too clever? It's a good question.

Seeing 1,000 Colonel Sanders run around New York City handing out samples, then showing up en bloc at a Yankees game that night is clever. Undergoing a prostate exam while singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch of a minor league baseball game seems, well, too clever by a measure. Or is it?

Myrtle Beach Pelican General Manager Andy Milovich underwent the exam, thankfully while he was in the press box, to promote prostate prevention. He earned national media coverage by showing how easy it is to be examined. You can even sing through it.

The answer to the question of when an idea is too clever for its own good is when the idea attracts attention, but for no good reason.

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