Red in marketing

Our latest reader design dilemma comes from Natalie, a graphic designer.
I work for a utility company as in-house graphic designer. Our theme for this years' annual report is "Balance" and harmony. The idea is how a utility company that provides an energy sources as its products (electric, gas and water) can still be environmentally friendly to our community.
A lot of the symbolism for balance plays off the Asian theme. I'm wanting to use red, black, and gray as my colors to give a subtle Asian feel but am afraid it will be shot down for using red in an annual "In The Red". Do you think that is how the red would be portrayed in an annual report?
I invited Christy Ann Coppola, creative director of Coppola Design, to weigh in with her expert opinion.
Christy Ann says, "I can see how the B&W, gray and red palette are used specifically as a graphic treatment, and don't have an issue with the colors. I would suggest using less of it, maybe more of an accent color, and using warmer shades of gray so the piece doesn’t have such a cold feeling. However the overall design does have a bit of a retro quality, and makes me think of the 80s."
The company's colors are Pantone 301 blue and 562 green. Give some thought to how this utility company has branded itself, and consider how the corporate colors could be incorporated into the piece.
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Think about successful brands like Target. You don't even have to see their logo to recognize a commercial of their these days, they have so seamlessly integrated their look and branding into everything they market and publicize.

Christy Ann agrees, "The second photograph of the warmer rocks, with the beautiful lighting, is a much richer photo, more visually pleasing and looks more modern. The company's corporate colors are blue and green, and if we are trying to say “balance and harmony” why not use those colors to reinforce it? Easily pulling warm browns and grays from the photo itself through Photoshop, combined with greens and blues, could not only reinforce the concept, but also reinforce the company brand."

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But getting back to red: here are some additional thoughts:
Red can have many different interpretations. It encompasses polar opposites, such as love and hate. Always dominant and powerful, it's a strong color. Most important to remember, color can only be interpreted in context; it's not innately tied to financial downfalls, ie "in the red".

Some marketers will preach that certain colors are taboo, and shouldn't ever be used. The combination of yellow and black is a powerful one, and in nature, provides predators with a warning that communicates their targeted prey is poisonous or dangerous. Therefore, some will say that people associate too much of a negative connotation with that color pairing to buy anything colored yellow and black.
That's so silly! Yellow and black are eye-catching, and much attention is garnered using these colors. Next time you go to a grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for packaging that catches your attention. What colors are used?

So, if the piece has to do with balance with a nod to Asian influences, make sure you push the concept by committing to it: balance the powerful red with neutral, softer shades of gray, sage, or brown; bring in Asian-feeling typefaces; and use visuals that support your concept.

Any other suggestions/feedback for Natalie?

Special thanks to Christy Ann Coppola for her insight.