Does the colour of a charity’s branding really matter?

Breast cancer charities were last month warned that using pink in their advertising, communications and branding is counterproductive. It’s an interesting theory, from a response point of view as much as a creative one.

According to a report put together by none other than London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and international business school INSEAD, gender cues such as pink ribbons, backgrounds and images of women are counterproductive and ‘activate a defensive reaction’ in women that interferes with the objectives of breast cancer awareness campaigns.

But fascinating though this academic study may be, those of us at the accountable end of marketing prefer to rely on – dare I suggest – testing to inform our decisions.

This is what the breast cancer charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer  found through its own consumer research. The charity rebranded to pink from purple after talking to its supporters and the general public about what they would prefer. What customers tell us through action often throws up surprising results that defy logic or theory.

For instance, stringent tests on a charity ‘survey’ pack demonstrated that yellow was the colour most successful at
generating response. Both theory and belief suggested that red would be better. And while red is, of course, powerful and motivating in many contexts, I certainly found it refreshing to discover that there is no such thing as a universal rule.

Perhaps the only real certainty here is that only proper testing can reveal the true levers of response.

Bob Nash is a creative director at Watson Phillips Norman

  • Rob Dyson

    Interesting about the Breakthrough change, as Breast Cancer Care did the opposite – incorporating shades of purple to offset the pink in its logo during a refresh. (I think) this was to reflect both older women with breast cancer and a nod to those with secondary cancer (pink was becoming perhaps a bit ubiquitous / infantilising…I’m speculating a bit here, you’d be better speaking to Christine McGill, then Director of Comms!)

    I blogged last year on pink trends as per its association with breast cancer and the bandwagonesque approach to marketing. I’d be interested in your thoughts…http://bit.ly/oQZBey

  • Mike Wade

    A good reminder that we all need to challenge ourselves sometimes to go back to what we know, but don’t always practice! If it looks right, feels right and is loved by your chief exec….it may well be wrong. Test, test, and test again.

    PS – Yellow? Really? My testing came out with a kind of mucky buff colour…

  • Melow Meldrew

    They use pink to appeal to women,it’s based (Quite wrongly), on the perception women care and more likely to donate. This sexism apart, the recent RNID re-brand also used an lurid pink/white website that looked to be aimed at 6 yr old girls frankly. For sure the male would not log in to such sites and this seems to be borne out on twitter and facebook too, pink is female oriented. And they ask why the male isn’t in to the caring profession….