Writing about colours: What’s in a name?

Colour plays a huge role in branding, from Apple’s simple white earphones to the luxurious and decadent shade of purple trademarked by Cadbury. But have you ever thought about how the words used to describe colours can influence how consumers feel about a brand or product? It’s definitely something to think about when you’re copywriting, and it’s not an issue exclusive to writing for the web.

When it comes to naming colours, one man’s red is another man’s scarlet, but the right name can make your brand irresistible.

Here are some tips for using language to your advantage when writing about colour.

Sell a lifestyle

Grey paint

Concrete jungle, vintage cobblestone or Nellie the elephant?

The same colour can be renamed to appeal to the lifestyle aspirations of different audiences.

Take regular old grey for example. To appeal to a cool young urban demographic you could call it ‘concrete jungle’. That name is unlikely to appeal to the rural, shabby-chic crowd but they might be interested in the same colour if it were called ‘vintage cobblestone’. That doesn’t sound very appealing for children, but if the colour were named ‘Nellie the elephant’ it suddenly seems a lot more fun and family friendly.

The colour hasn’t changed at all, but the words used to describe it tell the audience immediately whether it’s the colour for them.

Avoid outdated colour names

People coloured crayons

Flesh, nude or peach crayons?

Colour names can be an unfortunate product of the times. Crayon company Crayola is famous for its inventive colour names, but in 1962 the company changed the name of its ‘flesh’ crayon to ‘peach’. The name change came from recognition that not everyone’s ‘flesh’ is the same colour (plus in my opinion it sounds a bit creepy!).

Interestingly, the word ‘nude’ is used by many fashion and beauty brands to describe the same pale pink colour, although it is controversial. I predict that this colour name will die out and soon ‘nude’ will join ‘flesh’ on the list of colour names to avoid.

It goes without saying that it’s best not to pick a colour name that alienates part of your audience, but the examples above show that it’s important to move with the times and review your wording regularly.

Try weird and wonderful colour names

Plain red, or something more exotic?

Plain red, or something more exotic?

‘I’m not really a waitress’

‘Tasmanian devil made me do it’

‘My paprika is hotter than yours!’

Believe it or not, these are all names for shades of red nail varnish from beauty brand OPI. Academic studies in marketing have shown that unusual colour names can be good for business. Generally, customers expect brand messages to provide useful information. So, when something unexpected comes along they take the time to think more about the brand and come up with positive reasons why the strange words are being used.

OPI  Executive VP, Artistic Director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann says that the strange names also help customers to identify with the different colours, as well as being a memorable talking point.

This all goes to show that words can have a big impact on how your customers feel about your brand. Is your company fun and playful, or serious and trustworthy? When it comes to communicating this to your customers the colours of your brand matter a lot, but the words you use to describe those colours may matter even more.


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