There are a lot of brands on our blue planet that use blue as a signature color. There are probably good reasons for that. For one thing, blue evokes trust and reliability, attributes that many brands want to be associated with. That’s probably the reason why GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler all use blue as a primary brand color.
But from a differentiation standpoint, this sea of blue in branding doesn’t make much sense. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all use a type of blue in their branding, but the associations for each social media platform are distinctive among users.
What could matter, though, is how brands that emphasize blue perform in the marketplace.
A recent Fast Company article takes a look at big blue brands — from major sports franchises to top-level Fortune firms — to see how they fare in the marketplace.
Brand strategist Devin Little performed the study for FastCompany. “There is plenty of psychological research on reactions to blue and other colors,” he writes, “but to evaluate the strategy of choosing blue for a brand, we wanted to measure how blue actually performs, to examine how it measures up against other colors in competitive environments. After all, brands have to compete — they have to work against the idea of sameness and command a premium.”
It turns out that blue brands don’t do so well in comparison to organizations of a different color. Nineteen of the Fortune 30 companies — 63 percent — have blue as their signature color. Those companies contribute a 63 percent share of the revenue for the Fortune 30 but only 45 percent of the profits. So they are outperformed from a financial perspective.
In Major League Baseball, Little writes, over 40 percent of the teams are blue, but only one of those teams has won the World Series in the past decade (the 2009 New York Yankees).
Little looks beyond the U.S. to analyze the performance of blue-dominant organizations on a global scale. The results are similar.
“Maybe this is all just crazy correlation, and nothing more,” Little writes. But he throws out a couple of theories: Perhaps “blue is just too chill” and lulls the brands into under-performing. Or blue, being the favorite color of 60 percent of men (including me) and women in the world, is “the color of the un-bold.”
Or maybe, as one reader noted in the comments, “Color of a brand logo has to do with the emotions it evokes and associating the success of companies to colors is absurd.”
Higher ed and the blues
Even if there’s nothing to Little’s approach, it would be interesting to put it to the test in higher education. Here are a couple of on-the-fly thought experiments:
- U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Of the top 10 national universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report last fall, only three use blue as a primary brand color. They are Yale (No. 3), Columbia (No. 4) and Duke (No. 8).
- Sports success. When I think of blue and college basketball, I associate with two major basketball franchises that have dominated in the past decade: Duke and Kentucky. It would not be wise to suggest to fans of those competitive programs that “blue is just too chill.”