Gucci, Chanel or Mercedes will never push money-off coupons through your letterbox. Just like they will never use yellow in their corporate colour portfolio. Yellow is used in marketing to mean cut-price bargains for the proletariat, and the last thing a luxury brand wants is for customers to think that their products are made “for the masses”.

Writer Rose Kelleher


Low-cost brands have no such neurosis. Think IKEA, Ryanair or Lidl. Their screaming yellow billboards pull in the crowds, leaving the discretion of forest greens and burgundies to the more discerning brand manager. Yellow is an eye-catching, attention-grabbing marketing tool that spells “affordable”. Suzy Chiazzari of Iris International School of Colour Therapy says “yellow is highly visible. Wanting to stand out in the crowd is considered by some to be brash and pushy, so it depends whether you want to send out the message of accessibility or exclusivity”. Roger Pruppers, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Amsterdam University agrees. “Bright yellow has the capacity to really grab attention, and that’s something luxury brands don’t want”.

Loud, conspicuous branding that requires sunglasses – think the garish interior of a Ryanair cabin or a Zeeman’s back-to-school poster – does not endear the luxury shopper. They happily pay a premium for “quieter”, less conspicuous markings. They seek exclusive membership of an elite “club”. IKEA, Telenet, Lidl and Zeemans do not discriminate. They are aware of the effect their eye-watering use of yellow has on bargain-hunting customers, and have embraced it with just as much gusto as their bejeweled cousins have turned their finely sculpted noses up at it. So what colour is luxury? Burgundy evokes images of chesterfield couches and hunting jackets in most. “Research shows that primary colours like yellow grab your attention, but that they also convey a simple message,” Says Roger. “Burgundy is a mix of different colours, it’s a very specific shade. It communicates sophistication and complexity, that there is more to the brand that a simplistic message”.

So what if a discount brand like IKEA changed their corporate colour to burgundy tomorrow, would we begin to associate burgundy with cheap? Roger says “IKEA is a hugely influential brand, but I’m not sure that it could change the meaning of a colour all by itself. Perhaps, you could ask the question the other way around: If IKEA started using burgundy, how long would it take for us to associate the brand with luxury?” But this is unlikely, he adds. “IKEA’s whole strategy is deliberately based around value for money.” Yellow’s mass appeal means you won’t find it over the door of the air conditioned emporiums on Brussels’ Boulevard de Waterloolaan, London’s Bond Street or the Parisian Avenue Montaigne. But this snobbish rejection fortunately applies to corporate identity only, and doesn’t extend to products them- selves. Marc Jacobs may still send Kate Moss sashaying down the catwalk in a saffron boiler suit but he’ll never adorn his fashion house with the same shade. Chivas Regal are as likely to use yellow in their branding as they are to be found handing out free samples of double scotch at your local Delhaize. Veuve Cliquot is the exception. They recognise that consumers associate yellow with champagne, along with sunshine, happiness and other “priceless” stuff.