By David French
My latest read, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, has spurred considerable thought about the branding and marketing work we do for clients. What are “good” design, appropriate colors and the right copy messages? Do subconscious forces influence our work?
The book by Adam Alter, assistant professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, delves into the subtle, unnoticed cues that influence our decisions, behaviors and even our success in life. If you’re unfamiliar with the shade of pink referenced in the title, it’s a vivid, bubblegum shade. Researchers in the 1970s and 1980s found that it significantly calmed children in Canadian schools. They wondered whether the same effect might occur when aggressive people were exposed to the color, so the walls of drunk tanks and jail cells were painted pink. You can guess the result.
I’m pleased to say that RLF has done quite a lot of excellent, award-winning branding and marketing work, directed by our stalwart and experienced creative director, Ron Irons. I sat with him for a few minutes to talk about how we use color, design and copy to support and build brands. I learned that creative direction is less about unseen forces and more about strategy and creativity with a dash of intuition.
“We’re not using colors, shapes and copy concepts to manipulate. At the most basic level we’re trying to help audiences understand a brand, its personality and what it promises to deliver,” he said. “But a fair amount of intuition—you could say the subconscious—does influence design and creative execution for a brand. Plus, I’ve been at it for many years, so experience counts, too.”
Take color, for example. For a client whose business is to educate and enlighten, we recommended the dominant color be shades of yellow—the color of sunlight and illumination. For another who’s in financial services, we used grays, blacks and muted colors to communicate solid, secure, and stable.
Shapes and spacial arrangement of design elements are important, too, to emphasize and clearly communicate what’s important—and to get noticed. As a brand is marketed and promoted, very often those shapes alone carry the entire brand message. Logos and symbols, for example, if property executed can become memorable. Think the Nike “swoosh”—in executions where it’s the only element, it’s immediately recognizable to millions around the world.
Elements like headlines and tags, and copy are the third consideration. Under Ron’s direction, we strive for high creativity, yet keeping it simple and pragmatic. “If the message isn’t easily grasped and understood by the intended audience, then it becomes noise,” he said. “You can be creative without being complex. And that holds true for all elements of design. They are the tools that provide a visual and verbal context, working together to communicate the core brand message.”
As a “non-creative,” I expected to draw more parallels between the thoughts presented in Drunk Tank Pink and marketing/branding creative. I have to say after talking to Ron, I’m not disappointed that there are few, if any. I’m gratified—and clients can be, as well—that building effective brands is based on strategy, creativity…and a lot of experience.