The power of colour
Posted by
Bokang Sesiane at 10:00

Growing up in one of the biggest Free State townships, there were two words that every child in the neighbourhood knew in English: "Green" and "White". It is a testament to the popularity, love and loyalty to Bloemfontein Celtic (Phunya Sele Sele), a soccer club that plays in South Africa's Premier League. Founded in 1969 as Mangaung United FC, it has distinctive green and white colours. 

Siwelele/Masokolara a Masele, as Celtic supporters are known,are arguably the most passionate supporters in South Africa. Many of them have lost their jobs and marriages for the love of their team. They are known for their enthusiastic singing throughout football matches - even when the team is losing - and this spirit has carried the team throughout their toughest times. Strangely, this same spirit is true of Celtic Football Club, the green-and-white team of the United Kingdom. It attracts huge numbers of fans to its home games, making it the third most popular team in the country after world famous rivals Manchester United and Arsenal. In both countries the teams of green and white have created passionate fans beyond what their performance can explain.

Masokolara are famous for illustrating their love for their team in colour, and this tradition has passed from generation to generation. Some supporters go so far as painting their houses, cars and clothing green and white. The green and white tradition has become so iconic of Bloemfontein Celtic that the Free State marketing team centred their 2007 Durban Indaba stand on these two colours, using their emotional power to punt not only the football club, but the whole province.

Why does colour connect with our emotions?

According to Mariel Bacci, "every colour has a specific effect on a human's mind" and the discipline of colour psychology has grown up around this observation. Colours make a subtle but important impression - and can easily affect our purchasing decisions as consumers.

The specific associations that our minds make with each colour vary by culture, time and place. To some of us, green may represent envy, Islam or nature. And white is often understood to mean purity or freedom. These may be strange associations for a football club - a category that implies energy and pride - but meaning is also created through repetition and powerful branding. (And perhaps Phunya Sele Sele fans are living 'freedom' in their singing and dancing!)

Brands often try to 'own' certain colours. In the mobile telecomms and financial services industries, each player has a distinctive colour. Colour is a simple, but effective method for creating communities of fans. It allows fans to identify with your brand, while personalizing their love and making it their own.

Some simple lessons for brands:

  • Use colour consistently. Be pedantic about getting the exact shade and pantone right in all communication and branding - Vodacom is red. It isn't sometimes vermilion or crimson.
  • Stand out from the crowd. Choose a colour that is distinctive and unique - it may be the only thing your customers remember about the brand design.
  • Build the association you want. While there are certain generalised rules for colour association, such as that warm colours are outgoing and energetic and cool colours are calming and reassuring, it is possible to craft the right association for your brand. Green may not have been the most logical choice for a football club, but it has become boisterous and fun. Purple is considered unappetizing, and yet Cadbury's has built a colour empire on the back of it.
  • Loosen up. Let your fans take the colour and run with it. Make it easy to do so by using it in apparel, memorabilia and packaging.

Bloemfontein Celtic has inspired generations of fans to colour their lives green and white. They have used colour to tap into a sense of belonging and community, and built visibility for their team. Colour is a powerful tool for brands, and every brand owner should be finding ways to use it to drive engagement and awareness. You don't need to be a football club to get it right. 

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