Oakland color expert explains: Color messages- why recipes just don't work

Branding firms like to use color messaging lingo to plump up their argumentation for a design. "X" color communicates _____. It's true that understanding the psychology of color is imperative in developing a successful product or service. The issue I take with this is that companies risk making blanket statements that are too broad and generalized to stand up to further scrutiny.

Take for instance a recent example of color messaging manipulation.

Fiserv provides automated account-keeping and other technology to help banks and credit unions operate efficiently. They wanted to be seen as a "vibrant, fresh and energetic" company (source). My first thought was, this is an enormous $4.7 billion dollar company, they've sucked up more than 140 companies while in business, and they work with financial institutions. Fresh and vibrant? Um, yeah right. But, since that's how they want to be perceived, off they go to be re-branded. Tada! The new face of fiserv. Your perception of the company is totally altered, right?

Brand New makes a great point about their new look, "this is a simple, strong corporate design and major bonus points for ditching the industry-issued color blue in favor of orange."
Orange is a great alternative to banking blue because it stands out in a sea of corporate clones. They further support the color choice by adding that it "has a certain heat and energy to it, but not the kind of danger you perceive when you see red,"(source).

True, but does this rule work for every case? Is red inherently taboo in the financial institution world? The resounding answer is, "nope".

I give you, HSBC Direct banking, branded by the same firm that designed fiserv. The very same firm that argued against using red as "dangerous". Go figure. Snark Hunting did some detective work on Landor's design and dug up the case study. "The strong use of white exemplifies the clarity and simplicity of the brand while the bold red registration pods demonstrate how HSBC Direct is a future-facing and contemporary brand."(source)

So, it just goes to show you, color recipes do not work. There are just too many nuances within color, and without the context around which a color is used, it's meaningless.