As little as 15 years ago, orange was a pariah in the colour world. It topped lists of people’s least favourite hue and its primary associations were with regrettable 1970s décor and all things cheap. In other words, it was not the kind of colour you
would want attached to your business.

But today orange is as unavoidable as it was then unthinkable, a powerful force in everything from fashion and interior design to politics and corporate identity.

Jack Bredenfoerder, design director in the Cincinnati office of WPP Group’s Landor Associates, has gone so far as to dub orange “the colour of the decade”.

A quick glance at companies founded or reformed in the past 10 years or so will turn up a veritable basket of oranges, including those of the EasyGroup, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and PDA maker Palm. Nowhere has orange’s ascent been more apparent than in the telecommunications sector, however, where it is represented by Euskaltel in Spain, Eircom in Ireland, internet phone company Vonage, Cingular Wireless, and, of course, Orange.

Indeed the colour was the centre of a legal tussle last year between Orange and EasyGroup over its use in the trademarks for their respective wireless telecom services.

“It is a very youthful colour and it’s vibrant. It gives a feeling of joyfulness,” says Mr Bredenfoerder. “In the past, orange wasn’t taken too seriously. Companies have started to leverage that. It gives a feeling of personalisation and customisation – that they are more in touch with the feelings of their consumers.”

For precisely those reasons, experts do not think orange will disappear any time soon. But some predict a shift away from the blaring palettes that have typified strong brands in recent years – such as those that characterise Google and Ebay or the bold colours Apple has used for its iPod advertisements.

Mr Bredenfoerder, who also sits on the board of the Color Marketing Group, a colour forecasting trade association, is among those who foresee a shift towards the use of softer, neutral and more natural hues in corporate identities.

“With the new millennium it was a big celebration, but I think the party is winding down in terms of the overall colour trend,” he says.

Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Color Institute and author of several books on colour psychology, agrees, calling the development a “calming of the

“Colour trends are a reflection of the age in which we live,” she says. “You have to look at the world around us and think in terms of the turmoil that we are currently in internationally.

“This is a time when people really do want to feel calmer, to feel some sense of release from that turmoil and tension.”

Ms Eiseman and other experts expect that desire will manifest itself in the short term as a rise in cooler tones like turquoise and a softening of brighter oranges into shades of ochre or brick. Rather than juxtapose them with other bold colours, de-signers are increasingly expected to match them with neutral tones.

“Instead of bringing all the brights together to make a bright palette, I would take a bright and sort of hide it among more neutral peers,” says Li Edelkoort, founder of the Edelkoort Group, a Paris-based design and colour consulting firm, which works for corporate clients.

The trend is already taking hold in the fashion world, with recent campaigns for Armani, Prada and Versace returning to black and white or neutral themes. Even in the world of children’s clothing, where bright colours are the norm, there has been a move toward earth tones, as evidenced by Gap’s recent adverts featuring kids clad in neutral hues.

Even if this trend extends to corporate branding, the retreat from bright colours may not necessarily force orange back into relative obscurity. This is because its ability to stand out in a crowd and the feelings of dynamism and vitality it now connotes have given it real staying power in advertising and brand identity.

Mr Bredenfoerder does not expect designers to embrace neutral tones in marketing as much as in fashion or interior design, but he has already noticed advertisers opting for subtler colour contrasts, and in some cases even a monochrome palette.

Ms Edelkoort, who takes a longer-term view of colour trends, believes marketers’ retreat from bolder colours will ultimately lead them to “a more silent approach”.

“Everybody has been trying to get a lot of attention by being loud, but sometimes if in a very loud environment you are silent, you get a lot of attention again,” she says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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