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Be brave with colour

Aircraft interiors feature so many blues and beiges that I sometimes wonder if anyone wants to stand out from the competition. This is a missed opportunity, and my sense is that it starts with a lack of understanding about how to think about colour within a brand experience.



There are two ways to think about colour as a brand touch point, and one big way to overthink it. First, colour is an important means of differentiation. What colour is Coca-Cola? What’s the dominant colour of your favourite sports team’s kit? Colour is a key way the human brain distinguishes one thing from another, and that task –differentiating between many similar things – is hardwired into us. Furthermore, our brains are much more proficient at recognising big, exaggerated characteristics, and far less skilled at recognising details. For our hunter/gatherer brains, colour is a big, exaggerated characteristic.


Second, colour is a symbol of additional differences. A carrier with a bolder colour palette is sending a clear message to the marketplace: this brand is different. Conversely, a brand with a muted or expected colour palette is also sending a clear message: this brand is obviously similar to others you already know so don’t expect too many challenges to the status quo. To put it simply: how a brand uses colour is an indicator of that brand’s appetite for innovation. Boldness begets boldness.


Lastly, here’s a big way we overthink colour: trying not to offend anyone. Have you ever travelled anywhere in the world and been offended by the colours you encountered? Probably not. You may have different colour preferences, but you hardly perceive colour as an insult. So why worry about it? The real reason this question comes up is that it’s a fancier sounding version of the question that is the bane of colour selection inside any organisation: How can we all agree on a colour? This unrealistic desire for consensus is the reason so many blues and beiges are selected. Those colours don’t inspire a strong reaction in anyone. No one loves them, and no one hates them. It’s indifference through consensus. Decision makers arrive at the least objectionable choice internally, at the expense of bringing something bold and different externally.


Fortunately it’s not all blues and beiges out there. Here are five airlines using colour in interesting ways. These carriers are at the pinnacle of passenger preference. Based on the latest Skytrax rankings, one is the most preferred airline in the world, another is the most preferred low-cost airline in the world, two others are the most preferred airlines in their respective regions, and the last is the second-most preferred airline in Africa that’s challenging a national carrier for the number-one spot.


Qatar Airways
The most preferred airline in the world owns burgundy. Qatar Airways is the only operator among the world’s top 100 airlines to use burgundy as its primary colour. The company uses the colour cohesively throughout the cabin and with crew uniforms.


The world’s most preferred low-cost airline uses colour to create a unique presence, whether through bright red headrests on just a few rows to create “pop” or bold all-black interiors so the red crew uniforms stand out.


Virgin America
The most preferred domestic airline in North America’s colour choice for seat fabrics is pretty straightforward – black and white. But that’s only a blank canvas for what it accomplishes to extraordinary effect with lighting and IFE graphics.





Hainan Airlines
The most preferred airline in China knows that the best way to use colour is singularly. Big, exaggerated uses of colour are most effective with a single colour. Hainan Airlines’ full-bleed of red is a perfect portrait of this wisdom.





Kulula Airlines
The second-most preferred airline Africa – behind only its in-country rival, South African Airways – is a big-thinking brand with a tremendous sense of humor. Kulula’s bright green livery design, complete with whimsical copy, set it apart from any other airline in the world.



Right: Kulula's interiors are surprisingly restrained 









17 May 2013


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