THE INFLUENCE OF COLOUR PSYCHOLOGY IN THE HOME, BRANDING AND ADVERTISING
With Colour Expert and Creative Director at Dulux, Marianne Shillingford
BRAND BITES: Where Marketing Meets Creativity Podcast [EPISODE 2]
Join us as we unravel the intriguing connection between colour and human psychology, exploring how it influences perceptions of the home and how brands can use it to craft trend-setting, distinctive, and up-to-date product ranges, marketing, and advertising.
In this episode, we explore:
- Marianne’s take on colour psychology
- Dulux’s Latest Colour Trends for 2024
- The emotional impact of different colour palettes in the home, branding and advertising
- The secrets to selecting the perfect hues for your home
Dulux is the UK’s leading paint brand, with a wealth of products and services designed to help you find the colours that you’ll love in your home, and give you the expert knowledge you’ll need to achieve great results. Find your colour: https://www.dulux.co.uk/en#tabId=colour-of-the-year-2024
Laura: Hello and welcome to the BRAND BITES podcast. We are thrilled to be joined by renowned industry expert Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director for Dulux and UK founder of the Colour in Design Awards, here with us for episode two of the BRAND BITES podcast.
Join us today as we unravel the fascinating connection between colour and human psychology and how it shapes the perception of the home, as well as explore how this can be used by brands to enhance their product ranges, advertising, and marketing to be trend-led, fresh, and up-to-date.
In this episode, we’ll be talking about Marianne’s take on colour psychology, the latest colour trends that Dulux is seeing as we head into 2024, and the emotional impact of different colour palettes in home branding and advertising. Marianne, hello, thank you so much for coming today.
Marianne: Oh I’m thrilled to be here.
Laura: We really appreciate your time; I know that diaries and logistics are always really tough, so thank you.
Marianne: Any excuse to talk about the thing I love with people who love it too.
Laura: Amazing, and we do love it, definitely. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Marianne: Oh, well, first thing, I think I probably have the best job in the world, the best job in colour, colour, and design. I work for an enormous company, Dulux is owned by AkzoNobel, a global company, one of the biggest creators of surface coatings in the world, and colour is absolutely at the fundamental heart of that, and Dulux is the decorative coatings arm of that. On a daily basis, I work with the most extraordinary people: creatives, scientists, artists, and young designers. Every day is different, but every day fills my tank with something to talk about, something to do. Yeah, so I am the luckiest woman in the world.
And I started my journey on the fairground, so I ran away from doing Art and Design at school and joined the fairground to paint rides. So, when any student says to me, you know, how did you get to where you got to, and they’re worrying because they’re working in Costa, I say don’t you worry, it’ll be fine.
Laura: No way. You’ve kind of led me into my next question because I was just going to ask you, actually, what was that career journey? How have you got to where you are today from the fairground, which is an amazing story?
Marianne: Well, I was always good at colouring in, and colouring in was a wonderful way of getting positive feedback from teachers to sort of distract them from the fact I wasn’t very good at maths. I went off to college to do art, but found that I couldn’t; I wasn’t very good at expressing myself as a fine artist. I was not going to be what I do love, and I did love, was the medium of paint and colouring in.
And so, this technical ability to draw something, to paint something, was something I could always do. I also wanted to leave home, so my dad was a self-employed nurseryman. Being self-employed was always part of what we did, and I wanted to. My dad said to me, he said, ‘you know if you’re not earning money after the thing you’re good at is just a hobby.’ And so, I wanted to explore the commerce of creativity and so ended up painting fairground rides, painting narrow boats, painting pub signs, and so, you know, making money after the thing that I was good at.
And then it was only when I started having kids that I realised, and my dad gave me another bit of great advice. He said, ‘stop working with your hands, start using what’s above your shoulders, your brain, so start thinking about where this might take you.’ And so, I went back to college, learned a few more skills about interiors, and then went from the outside to the inside and took all of those skills of work, being able to work, hard work in colour, create an experience of a space, but did that in interiors. And then from there, ran my own business in interiors. I did interior design courses just to top up what I was doing and found that I always used paint.
Paint was always at the very heart of what I did. And then met Dulux along the way; we used an amazing product of theirs in an unusual way. They asked me to show their decorators how to do it, so did a world tour of the UK, showing decorators how to use this new product, and then the sort of relationship with Dulux started. But very much founded in the practical application of paint.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that I can paint most decorators into a corner, and I like that; give me a brush, do it, and I’ll do it. So, I really understand the product. Another thing that maybe with the colour thing is my dad was a rose grower, was brought up on hundreds of acres of roses his whole life, I remember he was trying to breed the perfectly coloured rose with a perfect scent and the perfect shape and then be able to reproduce it in print. So it was accurately reproduced, so colour was absolutely the fundamental heart of what he did.
And he was a painter as well, so this whole experience of colour, the theater of colour, the way that it can transform the way you respond to a space. On the fairground, there’s nothing more exciting than having colour as part of that experience, whether it was in light or whether it’s in shapes, and that’s just in my soul. This is a job that working for Dulux couldn’t be better for a woman like me.
Laura: It’s almost like an addition to what your real passion is basically. Now that paint and colour is part of your professional life, do you still do it as a hobby as well? Is it something that you do on a weekend to relax?
Marianne: If you look at my nails, there’s always something. I don’t know how it gets underneath your clothes, but it does tend to every day. But generally, most days of the week, I will be picking up a paintbrush and doing something. So, whether it’s painting somebody’s wall or painting a picture or mixing new colours, working in the studios, painting up, trying out new products, generally, every day I’ve got paint.
Is it a lack of imagination? Or is it just absolute love? It’s ridiculous. I get excited every day I go to work; I wake up in the morning, and I think this is great.
Laura: Oh, wow!
Marianne: It’s definitely that. This is just a dream, isn’t it? Normally, most people feel sick, and I just think oh, this is great.
Laura: Oh, I’m very jealous! When you wake up in the morning, does that mood reflect then what colour you’d be working on if you were to paint something that day?
Marianne: Not entirely. colours are like children, aren’t they? You have to love them all, whether you like them all or not. And you have to experiment; you have to find something good in new colours. Actually, when we’re putting new colours together, we’re telling stories; we’re capturing an essence of a mood, we’re wanting to create an outcome in a space, and sometimes those colours won’t be the most obviously joyful colours. I am toxically optimistic about everything, and sometimes it’s quite good to tone it down a little bit, add a bit of grey every now and again.
Laura: Not at all, not at all. Obviously, a very busy Creative Director of Dulux. What is a typical day in the world of Marianne? What does that look like?
Marianne: Oh my goodness, well, we’ll always be working on the launch of something or a colour story. So, at the moment, we’re working on Heritage, a new range of Heritage colours. The storytelling behind that, where those colours originated from, I might be diving into the archive to look at colours from the past to pull them to the future or telling the story of where we’ve come from.
We’ll be doing a lot of that next week; we’re doing an R&D tour. So, we’re going around R&D to see the new toys they’ve got, see if there’s anything that we can play with and tweak for the future. Be working with young designers at the London Design Festival, meeting new designers, finding out what they’re doing, keeping an eye on the future, and trying to understand what paint might be in the future.
Laura: Is that a constant? Constantly looking forward?
Marianne: Absolutely looking forward. What will paint be? Will paint be paint on our walls? How will we colour our interiors? If you think about it, there’s a whole new generation that don’t own their own houses, and so how does that look? How do we add colour to people’s lives in a new way?
A typical day is not a typical day. We launched colour of the year last week, and that was everything from filming for social media, doing interviews with journalists, talking to different sectors, our customers, architects, and designers. It’s jam-packed. Communication is absolutely at the heart of everything I do, telling people about colour, talking about colour, and passing on that passion, unlocking the potential of colour to make life better.
Laura: Talking of the power of colour, and the name of colour, you’ve obviously been in the industry a while. Do you feel there’s a difference in how people are using colour now compared to 10 to 15 years ago? Do you think there’s been a shift?
Marianne: 100%. And since the pandemic, even more so. So, we have a global trend forecasting process, and up until about eight years ago, when our experts from all over the world, 26 countries, would come together and discuss the things that were affecting the way we were going to live in the future, it was all about what Nike was doing, what Apple was doing, what was the new carpet, the new flooring, the new lighting, and that affected our choices of colour.
And also, big films that were coming out, big global events, and about eight years ago, everybody was rocked up, the world was going to hell in a handcart. Lots of things were happening that were out of our control.
We were being bombarded by 24/7 social media. We could see levels of anxiety going up; the environment was starting to fall apart, political unrest. There were so many things happening out of our control. We started to talk about the things that we needed to make our lives and ourselves more comfortable, more stable.
We were returning to a sense of what home and stability and safety felt like and what that might look like. It was much more human-centred, a human-centred approach, and since then, our colour forecasting has become so much more successful, commercially accessible. We’re telling a story of colour that is a reflection of how we want to feel in an unstable and an uncertain future.
Colours have become more natural. If you think we’ve been locked in our homes since the pandemic, these beautiful colours that connect us with nature, the receding colours that connect you with the sky and the sea, they’ve become huge, absolutely huge, our bestselling colours. So, if you look at the human condition, if you look at what we want and what we need from our living spaces and workspaces and then start to build a pallet around that, then you’ve got gold. We call it Alchemy. It is an alchemy process.
Laura: Wow, it’s really interesting. Talking about Dulux and the colour range, looking at some of the colours you’ve got, Berry Smoothie, Raspberry Bellini (a favourite of mine). 80% of the Dulux names are linked to food. Is there a reason for that?
Marianne: I love this question! Well, we have colour naming sessions, so we invite anybody from the business, whether you’re in finance or R&D, you can all come to a colour naming session. We’ll be creating new colours for new ranges, and generally, it will be made up of two words, one a word that takes you to the colour and a word that takes you to how that colour might make you feel. So, something like Sumptuous Plumb. Sumptuous is the feeling, Plumb is the colour.
Generally, it happens before lunch, and everybody is hungry. And that is it basically, colour and food. colour is an experience, and I think we taste it, we smell it, we’re immersed in it in such a way. Food is such a lovely connector and indulgence. If we do colour naming after lunch and we’re all a bit tired, it can get a bit filthy, and we start to get a bit naughty, and it’s really dreadful! But it’s funny!
On certain days, there are a lot of colours that are connected with the weather as well like Stormy Seas. There is something about the rain and the damp that we seem to really like in colour, especially when we were going through this sort of grey period. So, it was all about stormy skies.
Laura: I’ve always wondered where names come from. Obviously, I’ve got nail varnishes and lipsticks coming out of my spare room at home, and I’ve always thought, who’s thought of the name oyster for a lip gloss? But obviously, there’s naming sessions.
Marianne: And some names go out of fashion. You can have a beautiful colour with a dreadful name or a name that’s just not summing something up, and the colour just won’t sell, so the name is really, really important. That’s why we call the process Alchemy
It’s taking something that’s just almost nothing and then turning it into gold. The name unlocks its potential, much more than you would imagine. So, you have to be proud to say, ‘I’m going to have this Ravens Flight on my wall, come see this colour’. If the name sounds lovely, like Country Sky or Coastal Gray, it’s beautiful. Those names evoke something, and they’re really important.
Laura: You get that emotional connection to it as well.
If something’s not selling, do you change the name or do you discontinue? Or does it depend on the product?
Marianne: We never ever totally retire a colour. We have an archive of thousands and thousands of every colour we’ve ever made, and we can make them again. Sometimes, it’s like it’s a very slow-moving fashion. We redecorate our homes or our walls between a three- and five-year cycle, and colours will come in, and colours will go out. They never entirely retire. It’s amazing how we’re starting to see a lot of these mid-century modern colours coming through. But we’ve got them, we’ve got them all from the original time they started, so there’s a lovely authenticity to them. They do go in and out of fashion but not as quickly as you imagine.
Laura: Right now, we’re going to shake things up a bit, and I’m delighted to be joined by two of my brilliant colleagues. We have Grant Tildsley, Creative Director, and Jo Thatcher, who is Head of Styling and Art Direction, joining the conversation. Hello, thank you for coming.
Grant: Exciting, good to be here!
Laura: Sounded really Brummy then! Thanks for coming. Go for it, Jo. We’re going to talk about colour trends?
Jo: Okay, so September is the Stylist’s favourite time of the year because Dulux always brings out their colour of the year. I am still in love with Spice Honey from 2019. I used that in my little boy’s nursery, and it’s a gorgeous colour.
The 2024 colour of the year is Sweet Embrace. You describe it as delicate, light, and welcoming. We just wanted to get a bit more insight into that colour and why Dulux has chosen it as their colour of the year?
Marianne: Sweet Embrace… When we choose the colour of the year, we have to capture this sense of what we want and what we need in our homes. When we were discussing it, it’s been a really difficult process this year because our experts from all over the world came with a sense that we need joy in our lives. There were lots of discussions about the colours that we’ve been seeing at Milan, the colours we’ve been seeing in design. We saw lots of yellows coming through, lots of positive colours, lots of terracottas and oranges, and these rich, warming colours.
But actually, when you think about what’s happening in the world at the moment, we’re not ready for a party. We thought that these strong colours would be more polarising for people. They might like them, they might look great on Instagram and in magazines, but actually, would people really use this colour in their homes? We saw lots of this background-supporting colour, this beautiful pink, this beautiful soft clay, neutral supporting pinks coming through in everything, coming through in fashion. It was coming through just gently whispering in the background. It’s a sort of millennial pink that had been growing and growing.
Pink, our own catalogues pink, has been growing and growing. It’s become this incredible gender-neutral colour that everybody really loves. I opened up my husband’s wardrobe (he is colour-blind, by the way), it’s all pink and purple, and I just thought this is really important. We came together as a group and found this beautiful colour. It’s this soft, delicate blush.
Pink is a really difficult word, as soon as you say pink, people think Barbie, they think bright colours, it does become polarising. We’re describing it as a blush, it’s quite a cool porcelain blush, and when we started looking at it and experimenting with it against some of these brighter colours that we were considering, it just came through as the perfect thing and the idea of a gentle embrace.
What we need now is not a party; we need a friend’s arm around the shoulders. We need to create a space in which we feel relaxed and comfortable. It’s got a modernity to it, it’s got quite a gentle brightness to it, so it’s not too sweet. This idea of a Sweet Embrace, that’s what we need as beings, and our homes need it as well.
It’s a supportive colour, it’s a colour that works well with everything. It’s really versatile, and on another level, that makes it more commercial. His soft colour makes it more commercial, and we want to create colours that people want to use. It’s not just about looking good on Instagram; we can do that with all colours. We can make it look really cool. We could use the darkest or brightest colour and make it look cool on Instagram, but nobody will ever buy it. With those trend colours we think are really cool, but it’s not for you, and then it’s exclusive, so we’re always aiming to have a colour that everybody is going to like. You never get it right all the time, but we really think that this is the colour that’s right for right now.
Jo: I love how you have the colour stories to support. It’s not just about that one colour and painting your whole room in that one colour. It’s about using the different tones, and maybe that Sweet Embrace is only used very sparingly, and the other colours shine through. Or maybe it’s your main colour. How do you find those supporting colours? My favourite is the warm tones.
Marianne: Yeah, well, when our experts get together, we talk about a number of topics, and you’ll find that themes will be coming through. This year, there were three really strong themes, which then lead into colour palettes.
The first thing we talked about was wanting to create a home that’s all about ourselves and surrounding ourselves with things that we love. This “clutter core” that we see coming through, this “clutter core” is old stuff, vintage and new stuff as well. People are surrounding themselves with things that tell a story about themselves. This idea of warmth, we could see warm colours, these cocooning colours, so we created a palette of warm colours that told a story of our homes being all about us, about who we are.
The warm palette is a beautiful combination of these gorgeous earthy warm terracottas and ginger colours. Sweet Embrace in there is just the most amazing little pop of pink, and there are unusual violets in there. There’s this gorgeous orange and violet together that looks amazing. It’s quite complex, but what it does is designed to marry the old stuff with the vintage stuff. So it’s designed to connect those two things together, and for you to have some fun, layering them up in an unusual way.
We’re seeking out spaces that reconnect with nature and ‘the calm.’ These are receding colours, the beautiful and familiar hues of nature that genuinely lower blood pressure, helping us relax, unwind, and think more clearly. We refer to this as the calm palette.
And then we need flashes of joy—micro doses of joy. We’re witnessing this. It’s not about a big party, but we are actively pursuing joyful connections with people. Those moments in the day that make us happy—giggles! Take, for instance, Costa, the brand; they encourage each of their employees to give away a free coffee every day. How wonderful is that? Imagine you’ve just had a tough day, and you walk into a Costa. You might shed a tear, and you get a free coffee! The person serving you feels great, and you feel great—simply lovely! It’s a microdose of joy.
So, with this palette, we could see these beautiful yellows coming through. We could see the golds and softer, more sugary violets. There’s a beautiful earthy colour there that just grounds it together. It’s not full-on party joy; it’s not a boisterous party joy. It’s just very soft. It’s like a giggle. So, we created this palette of smiles, a giggle, and we call that the uplifting palette.
Each of the colours works with the colour of the Year. In each palette, there are ten colours, and one of those colours is the colour of the Year. They are designed for creatives and for people to be able to combine them in any way, whether it’s on the walls or on the furnishings. You create this colour story that captures the way we want to feel. Does that make sense?
Laura: It certainly does. I love how it’s all about your personality making your home about you because a lot of the time people just think about carbon copies of things that they see on social media, but it is about you; you have to live in that space and you have to bring your personality. This whole colour story really emphasises that, which is really lovely. Sweet Embrace; that welcoming home, relax, it’s a really lovely colour. Really excited for it and love the thought process behind it as well.
It brings me to the next question about what advice would you give someone who was looking for the perfect colour for the home because it’s so often asked, ‘what colour should I use?’ Do you have any top tips for picking out a colour and colour palette?
Marianne: Most of your favourite colours will be found either in your wardrobe or in something you’ve had for a long time, something you’ve bought and you love. It could be a cushion, it could be a piece of artwork, it’s something that you’ve carried with you from one place to another. That’s probably where you’d start.
We’ve got a magic colour picking tool; it’s called the Dulux visualizer. You can scan over an object, whatever it is, then it finds your favourite colours. It will match that favourite colour but it will also give you combinations that will work on the walls so you can use a bit of digital tech to unlock something you love, to make it work on the walls of your room. It will also give you lots of different options, and then you can visualise those colours on the wall. So start with the things you love, start from the heart, and work outwards, and it can never go wrong.
Now your big problem can be the person, or the people you live with! With a digital tool you can sell an idea before you commit to buying the paint, try little testers, stuff like that so you know if it’s a big mistake.
With any colour, people are worried about committing. You would not wear the same outfit for the next three to five years, but you will paint your walls and it will last three to five years. That’s a commitment you have to get right, and most people bottle it. Just doing something nice and safe, sort of beige, and it never really works because you’re never really satisfied. It’s never really about you, but start with something you love, and you’ll unlock the potential of your home in a really emotional way.
Jo: The one big question I guess is what is your favourite colour?
Marianne: Oh my, well look, I’m wearing it; it’s orange!
Grant: Is that winter pumpkin?!
Marianne: I think this is more of a hazard sort of colour! It’s funny you shouldn’t have favourites because I do think colours like children. They’re all your children. You love them all, and you know even the ones you don’t like particularly. But I come back to Orange. It’s one of those colours that in colour psychology or colour culturally, it’s about harvest, it’s about home, and it’s about creativity. Whenever I see it, and we used a lot of orange on the fairgrounds, you think of that really bright orange, and it always makes me smile. I look dreadful in it probably, but it just makes me smile.
Jo: Are there hints of orange in your home?
Marianne: Quite a bit.
Grant: I’m now imagining a full fairground?!
Marianne: That’s it! I have got full fairground walls, yeah!
As most of our listeners are marketing and brand managers, how can those kind of colour stories and mechanics that you’ve talked about, how do you think that they can really be used to impact consumer perceptions and emotions?
Colour tells a story. In the introduction you talked about colour psychology, and there’s a lot of talk around colours answering our big problems. colour can tell a story that people will recognise if you look at its cultural associations, but also how we, as human beings, actually see it.
So we start with an approach with science. Each colour has a different wavelength, a bit like a sound. Red has the longest wavelength, and what that means is it’s the noisiest, loudest colour when we look at it, it appears closer to us than any other colour in the spectrum.
If you think about red, if you’re going on a hot date you put on a red lipstick, red shirt? Red car? Red Ferrari? If you think about the colour red, it’s really in your face, it’s really powerful, and so red can be used in an incredibly impactful way. It can also be the most scary colour, so in terms of branding and in terms of drawing people in or even in design when you’re using a bit of red, it will absolutely attract you, but it will also wear you out a little bit, and it can be quite scary.
Then you move through the spectrum, so red is the longest, orange is a shorter wavelength. It has the power and attraction of red but none of the scariness, and then suddenly we start to associate this orange with the sunshine, home, harvest, spirituality. Buddhists wear orange, the creative chakra is orange, culturally, and the way that we see it combines to create a story of colour that we can use in branding or telling a story of a space.
Yellow is a shorter wavelength, still quite a long one, and yellow is a colour that reminds us of sunshine and optimism. Think of baby chicks in the spring! It’s fresh sunshine, but it’s also wasps and bumblebees and poisonous frogs.
So red is closest to us, then orange steps back, yellow steps back a little bit more, then you’ve got green right in the middle of the visual spectrum. Green is the most beautiful colour for us as human beings to process. It’s so easy it balances everything. It’s right in the middle; when you create something in green, people instantly relax. They’re instantly out in the countryside. It’s the most calming colour and it works with every other colour in the spectrum. So green is a super colour for helping calm things down and making people respond to a space or an object in a calm way, and then you go to blue.
Blue is the world’s favourite colour because we live on a blue planet, and it is the most familiar colour. It’s a colour associated with trust with authority, but gentle trust. We see this colour all the time, and we love it. We trust it. So big brands that want to be trusted use blue as a foundation colour. We recognize it, we follow it, we’re not scared by it, but it has a sense of authority and calm.
Then we go to violet, which is right at the end of the most complex colour to visually process. If it were a sound, it would be like a bee in a jam jar. It’s extraordinary, and this unusual colour is one of the most modern colours. We can see in dye, it’s a colour that was very hard to create and very, very hard to actually create as a paint.
We associate it with modernity because of that, but we also associate it with twilight, the night, mystery, and death in a sense. Also, royalty because it was so difficult to produce. If we think of the colour beyond violet, which is ultraviolet, it’s a colour that’s almost invisible as well.
We started to see this complex colour come through really strongly in the last few years, and it’s a real polarizing colour. You say purple, you might get teenage girls and vampires loving this particular shade, but it has complexity. We’ve started to see these beautiful soft petal violets coming through, which is really unusual because we live in complex times. But colour is such a powerful tool for creating a response and understanding.
So for me, psychology is like juju because you’re trying to go back to how we see colour and how culturally we’re responding to it. You start to look at how we are using it and how we associate with it. That’s much more powerful than saying, ‘Oh, blue’s going to make you more intelligent,’ it just doesn’t.
We did a great study back in the ’90s about colour in architecture, and we wanted to work out what would be optimal colours for teaching healing environments. What we found was that certain colours did have a small effect, but not big enough to be really noteworthy.
What did have the biggest effect was decorating somewhere really thoughtfully, changing the environment really thoughtfully, and creating a vibe, whether it’s an inside-outside vibe using plants. It was that thoughtful process of redecoration rather than the colour itself.
Grant: In terms of a strategy, if a newer independent company is thinking about trying to work out their colour palette, is it more that as opposed to playing by certain rules? Maybe rip up that rule book a little bit but be thoughtful about what is important to you? As a brand, how are we going to reflect ourselves through colour?
One thing we’ve seen a trend of is a lot of brands being quite colour agnostic. You usually have to have a black and white version of a logo, for example, but we’re finding that people are using graphics and photography behind logos, which is potentially to shy away from pushing toward something like a solid blue. That thoughtful mechanic sounds really useful to really think about why you’re using a colour.
Marianne: When we think about designing a space, we ask ourselves, what do you want to happen in this space? Whether it’s to bring a family together to eat around a dining table or whether it’s to create a space in which you can just clear your mind and get down to some work. A homework space or even an office space, do you want to bring people together to have a really intense experience? Bright yellows and bright oranges do that. What you want to happen in this space, and the colour can be the answer.
Grant: Do you have anything in terms of culturally or in terms of societal issues? Do you have to be considerate around colours to potentially not use, and what those danger zones might be? Or do you fly above that a little bit and just be truthful?
Marianne: There are colours that I don’t particularly like. There are colours that can be quite agitating. For example, a bright, bright yellow, we often used to paint nursery schools in bright yellow because they thought kids liked it. But basically, it was like giving them loads of e-numbers; they would go crazy.
The human eye can see more on the bright spectrum, and it’s quite confusing; it trips us up a little bit. There are colours being used as a hazard colour. The balance can tip from being a beautiful sunny golden yellow to being a hazard quite quickly if you’re using the wrong kind of colour. The same goes for green. You can have a green that takes you to the countryside, and it’s a beautiful pastoral calm green. But then you put a bit of acid in it to make a clean and bright version of that, and it can be quite agitating.
It’s a wonderful tool, and culturally, at the moment, we start to see we’re living a much more digital life. We put our headsets on, we go and play games, we’re seeing digital colour coming through in loads of things. Barbie Core, those digital colours we’re starting to see come through in brands, and we can’t actually recreate it in paint. It’s hard because of the neon, but we’re starting to be more familiar with those colours, and they press certain buttons very quickly for us. There’s a whole new world to explore beyond my palette. I find it so exciting!
There are certain colours that you will associate. If you think about the wasp and you think about colours that are going to draw your attention. They might not engage very long, but you will stop them in their tracks.
Jo: You’re renowned for the colour trends report which comes out annually, and we’d love to understand the process of how that happens, how do you start and where does it lead to?
Marianne: We have a global trend forecasting process, and we call it Colour Futures. It’s something that only in the last 10 years have we shared with the industry; architects, designers, and creatives.
It’s something that we’ve been doing for the last 20 years, and the process is we have 50 markets in 26 countries, each of those 26 countries will have a Dulux team. We ask them to nominate somebody from that country who is doing something extraordinary in design, architecture, or technology.
It could be a lighting manufacturer, the creative director of somewhere, it could be the editor of Elle Decoration in China, and we invite these people to a three-day workshop.
We ask them to present what they think is going to be the biggest influence in the way we’re going to live in the future. After 3 days, we translate what they’ve told us into stories of colour.
It is the most extraordinary process, we never talk about colour in those forums, we just sit on the sidelines. I’m in that group, but I don’t talk; I just listen.
We’re looking for commonalities between each country. We’re trying to find a thread, something that will really crystallise, because we’re looking at these global palettes that will resonate, global colour stories that people will be able to recognize and buy into.
There’s always a bit of a problem, reflected light. If you come from a very hot country with beautiful light, the colours tend to be brighter, sharper, and cleaner. But if you’re in the Nordics and Northern Europe, like we are, we tend to like the smokier organic colours. And so when we’ve got to the end of this three-day workshop and we’re starting to distil the information down into a palette of colours and then try to choose this one colour of the year, there’s proper argy-bargy every year.
It’s a majority decision. We come to the same conclusions, and often those brighter colours are included in the palettes and the palette stories. We have to capture a colour that will look beautiful through every light condition all around the world.
And some of our bestselling colours, I mean (To Grant), you’re wearing a suit that is in one of our best-selling colours. It’s a colour called Tranquil Dawn, it’s beautiful. It makes a great suit and looks amazing on the walls. It’s one of our best-selling colours.
It’s a colour that captured the mood of the moment, but it is a colour that’s receding as well, so it made small spaces seem bigger. It was a colour that was launched during the pandemic and it became one of our biggest selling colours because people were hemmed in; they used a colour, and then suddenly they were reconnected with the great outdoors, which is the biggest luxury that we had.
The process is extraordinary. One of the biggest privileges of my job is to be a fly on the wall with some amazing brains who have insight into the most extraordinary ways that we will be living in the future. Having sat in the background of that for a number of years and started to see some of these incredible far-reaching technologies and ideas actually come to life and actually happen, you become more confident of a trend forecasting process. Your trend predictions for the future become much more robust, much more real.
It is an extraordinary privilege. It makes me tingle thinking about it, to be honest, because they talk about things in the future. Where you and I are going to be living, and what’s going to affect our children and our children’s children, what the big issues and the big challenges are, and what the big joys are. Can you believe that it all leads to a palette of colours? And people say colour is just decoration. I mean, I beg to differ!
Grant: We talked about a brand before and then about the fantastic way of investigating what colours you’re choosing with your trend forecasting. In terms of brands that are creating products and their own identity, that they want to sell into the market, due to the fact that there are these very large companies like yourselves creating these colours, which are colour Of The Year, how do you think that brand should navigate that in terms of not necessarily just letting that be a self-fulfilling prophecy of we’re going to forecast something and then it becoming something that everybody is just jumping on to?
You can buy trend reports that will give you palettes that are supposed to capture what’s happening in the future. These are great; you know that you’re developing a product in the context of this palette, but everybody else will be buying that palette.
You start to produce products that might have some synergy between each other in the marketplace, but they’re not necessarily rooted in anything other than a range of generic products. If you want to be distinctive and tell your own story, you need to do that process yourself.
We slavishly follow Pantone bringing out a colour of the year, but Pantone is a digital colour manufacturer for print. It is led by the catwalk, it is a wonderful concept. Dulux has been doing it for years, but our focus is on walls, on the built environment. We have these two different approaches to colour, WGSN does the same thing.
Why don’t you as a brand shake it up a bit and do your research? What do your customers really want? It’s kind of lazy; let’s be creative! That’s what the industry is about, about unlocking the creativity of a palette that doesn’t look like everybody else’s.
If you slavishly follow what the trend forecasters say or you’re buying a trend report, do it for information and context but flipping heck, if you’ve got a distinctive brand, you should be distinctive.
Grant: Absolutely, I think sometimes when you think about physical products, often that thought process is there for the function but the aesthetic is just tacked-on.
As you said, the aesthetic really should be being thought about. Those objects that are then in your home or wearable, that’s what it’s coated in. It should have that thought and story behind it as well.
Marianne: colour is so much more than skin deep. It’s so much more; it’s how we respond to something. Often when we’re creating a range of paints or a range of colours, we’ll add in some colours that we know will never sell, but they’ll look damn good, and they’ll put the dots between the other colours. They’ll connect that palette together, but we know they won’t sell as much as the softer colours within the range.
It’s this creative ingredient that we just often overlook as merely decoration, and it’s not. There’s so much more of a story to tell, and we all use colour every day from the moment we get up, to the clothes we put on our backs. You chose that beautiful suit for a reason. You know that it makes you feel good, but it also says something. It’s a language; learn the language and then you create a better story for your product.
Laura: Okay, so now Marian, it’s time for the previous guest’s question. We ask all our guests to come up with a question for the next one. We previously had the lovely Charis Hawkins, who is the Head of Brand Marketing & Communications Manager at Magnet Kitchens.
She wants to know, ‘As a heritage brand in a nation obsessed with the home, and with new challenger brands entering the market, how does Dulux keep communication strong and exciting to continue building desire for the brand?’
Marianne: Flipping heck! Have you got half an hour?!
We’re true to who we are. We have always been a brand for a modern consumer; we create the products that solve our problems in beautiful colours and, I would say, products. We’re science-based, so we formulate products that are for real life, like products like our Easy Care, up to 20 times tougher than a standard emulsion—perfect for families as it lasts longer. It has less impact on the environment, and it’s beautifully easy to use.
We have a focus on amazing products in amazing colours. We’re always true to that. We come back to what does the customer want? What does the customer need? How do we want to make them feel in their homes? It’s very much about the heart, but the products we can’t overlook. We need real-life products. So often, you know, disruptor brands will bring out beautiful colours and great stories, but the product isn’t up to much. We do the whole package.
Laura: Thank you. So now for some fun questions. I think I know the answer to the first one… If you could paint the entire world in one colour, what would it be and why?
Marianne: Well, my favourite colour is orange, but I would say Sweet Embrace. It’s the colour of the year, and that’s what we all need. I would give the world a big hug.
Laura: Nice! What is your most memorable use of colour in a film or a campaign that’s stuck with you and why?
Marianne: Oh my goodness! There was a great campaign, all about colour and feeling. There’s a couple; she starts to paint the bedroom red, and it’s quite cheeky. He comes in from work, sees the bedroom in red, closes the door—obviously, you know what happens in there. And then the next time we see her, she’s painting the red out to a soft, barley colour. She’s got three kids screaming! I loved that; that’s the power of red.
Laura: Every man listening to this is going to go home to paint his bedroom now! If you could describe your personality using only one colour, what would it be, and why?
Marianne: I would say it’s orange.
Laura: Marianne, you’ve been brilliant. I could listen to you all day; we literally ran out of time. Thank you so much for coming.
Marianne: It’s been wonderful; thank you for asking, thank you.
Laura: We have a simple philosophy: produce great content at speed and scale, delivered by experts. As part of the Ride Shotgun group, we are an agency with a difference: big strategic thinking, impactful creative content production, and activation at scale all in one place so you can achieve more for your brand than ever before. Whether you need a lead strategic partner or content production, we can join you at any point on your brand journey.
For more information on Ride Shotgun, our services or if you’d like to be a guest on the next episode, then get in touch!