Pink: Reclaim Or Avoid?

We don’t always notice the power of colour can have on our behaviours and decisions. Colour plays a vital role in our everyday lives. It helps us to navigate, know what food to eat, and see cultural references.

As designers, we think about the power of colour commercially, but also culturally. We use colour theory every day.

Colour contributes to the purpose of a brand, but we need to be careful when there are many perceptions of colours and social connotations. When speaking to clients, we listen closely to understand their purpose, and then communicate this in the most effective way. Colour is a big part of this process, it can completely transform the feel and influence of a brand.

When we start a branding project, our priority is uncovering the brand purpose, connecting with the audience and also looking at points of cultural reference. We present concepts in black and white, and after discussions, we then look at how colour can help tell the story.

 

When we started working on Women Of Tyneside, we had discussions around pink, and whether to reclaim it, or whether it was too much of a socially conditioned stereotype. We couldn’t ignore the historical connection that pink has had in ‘defining’ or ‘promoting’ femininity. We decided that much more research needed to be done before a decision was made.

We started looking into why the Western world uses pink and blue to define binary genders. We found that it was to do with the most powerful thing in the world: money. In the 1980’s, parents could start finding out the sex of their baby, retailers capitalised on this to sell binary-gender specific merchandise. Before this, it was common for parents to dress both binary-genders in white. Retailers knew that the majority of parents have more than one child and that they would be unlikely to hand down ‘boys’ clothes to a ‘girl’ if it was going against social norms, influence or expectations for worry of being different. Capitalism contributed to socially ingrained gender divides of pink and blue.

 

The question many people and parents have been asking is: do we assign each colour to binary-genders because that’s what they like? Or do boys and girls gravitate towards this colour because of social conditioning?

We found the story of the ‘pink and blue project’ from photographer Jeongmee Yoon fascinating. Yoon’s five year old daughter couldn’t get enough of candy-coloured possessions, so Jeongmee started the Pink and Blue project, where she photographed her daughter and other children with pink or blue themed possessions. The innocence of her subjects raised the question whether there was something ‘natural’ about these gender norms or if stereotypes are so culturally engrained at such a young age that even infants seemed to notice?

 

There was also a study done into pink and blue in 2011. Researchers took two identical objects, one was pink, the other wasn’t. They put the objects in a room of children and observed. At one, there was no difference to which child would play with the toys, at two, more girls were choosing pink, by 4, the gender divide was evident with most boys refusing the pink item.

Marketing around pink and its social history has a lot to answer for. But more recently, political movements such as He4She, Amnesty and Pussy Riot, along with celebrities Beyonce, Janelle Monae and Nicki Minaj have reclaimed the colour.

 

However, after analysing our research and our own experiences, we could not ignore the negative contributions blue and pink have had on reinstating gender stereotypes through social conditioning and advertising. Because of this, we opted for a bold red, so that the brand and what it stands for could not be taken out of context.

 

A well-considered brand colour can help define ethos, values and positioning. If chosen effectively, it can set an emotional stage for the whole brand experience.

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