The future is not bright if the future is purple

Purple has had a great innings and done some batting for UKIP but despite its advantages as both a halfway-house between Labour and the Conservatives it fails to confer the right message in terms of values, ideology and loyalty

Martin Horton-Eddison
On 10 August 2013 16:11

The advent of the logo in the world of retail and commerce enabled companies to spell out their business ethos in the passive glimpse of an eye, proving the old adage that a picture really does paint a thousand words. For most organisations their branding represents the entirety of their identity. That’s kind of the point – to sell the ethos, values and perception of an organisation in a simple collection of colours, fonts and images. 

Megabrands like Coca Cola and McDonalds have profited from our inner recognition of the colour red. Our caveman ancestors learned to recognise it as the colour of poisonous creatures, fire and our own blood. We are hardwired to sit up and take notice of red; it is a colour which prompts an automated recognition response in the human mind.

This is why the stop signal on traffic lights is red – we are more likely to take notice of it. Advertisers and colour psychologists see red as the colour of passion and revolution. For these reasons, Socialist Red is the colour of the Labour Party.

Blue is as powerfully evocative as red because it is a colour which signifies the clear skies of calm weather, or the calmness of still waters in which our ancestors bathed, fished and drank. For colour psychologists, blue is the colour of trust and honesty.

Teamed with white, blue is by far the most common colour for nurses uniforms, bottled water packaging, the stripes in your toothpaste and the deodorant that you use every day. Blue is the colour of Bupa, Evian and Sure.  It is the colour of choice for Banks looking to confer an air of solidity, trust and financial transparency. For these reasons, trustworthy blue is the colour of the Conservative Party.

By way of example, social media websites, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the red of mainstream media such as tabloid newspapers and television news nearly all use blue logos. The exception being the ill-fated ‘Friendster’ which plumped for green.  It failed.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram all went blue. They succeeded alongside the red of mainstream media.  A website you are to entrust it with your personal data is more likely to choose banker-blue than any other colour. 

Political parties are no different.  Labour, Nazi Germany and Communist Russia and China chose red because the psychology of the colour represents strength, vibrancy and revolution. Colours can also have negative connotations; red can spell danger and threat for example.

Perhaps rather appropriately for Labour, red is also the colour that accountants use to identify negative cash flow.  The UK Conservative Party and the American Democrats, again political spectrum opposites, nevertheless both plumped for blue because of its innately calm and trustworthy connotations. 

There’s also something essentially tribal about both colours when in juxtaposition; just look at the colour choices of the top football teams in the English premiership. Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool all wear red whereas their rivals Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton wear blue.

This is because blue and red are strong and powerful enough that they can be used to provoke feelings of loyalty in our inner caveman.

Look again at the national flags of France, Great Britain and the United States and you will see that they all employ both blue and red; if you’re trying to build and hold a nation together, why settle for just one of these two powerful colours; why split the tribe?  

In recent years political parties faced with dwindling membership numbers and declining electoral turnouts have made efforts to reinvent themselves. In some way, the very strength and solidity of their colours have somehow made them seem unapproachable, staid and unresponsive. 

In the mid-nineties Labour rebranded as New Labour with the tag line ‘New Labour, New Britain’ and changed much about the party image, but stopped short of adding any blue to the red Labour rose. After successive electoral defeats, the Conservatives also attempted to reinvent their brand with the addition of the colour green in an effort to broaden the appeal of the party to younger voters deemed more environmentally conscious.

This change had the disastrous effect that they switched from the powerful combination of solid blue accented with red, to a smattering of lighter blue with a dominance of green. 

The ambiguous result meant that the Conservatives had made the Friendster mistake. Green fails to inspire trust of blue or confer the solidity of red required to evoke feelings of legitimacy.  It is also representative of the wider environment rather than the tribes which compete within it.  

During this same period, both Labour and the Conservatives undertook to make actual philosophical shifts too.  Labour advisor and Political Theorist Maurice Glasman wrote the influential ‘Blue Labour’ which advocates ‘social conservatism’ and has subsequently had a huge influence on Labour Party doctrine.

Philip Blond, once a Theology Lecturer at a provincial University and now inner-circle policy advisor to the Conservative Party advocates ‘Red Toryism’. With Labour on the march from red to blue, and the Conservatives taking a new bearing from blue to red, it seems that British politics is becoming increasingly a combination of both: purple. 

Enter stage: the rise of UKIP. 

UKIP has attracted many supporters who once wore the blue shirt of Conservatism, but it is also true that some red shirts of Labour have found their way into the wash. Ideologically speaking, Blue Labour and Red Tory are an admission that the future is purple but it also worthy of note that this has done little to revive either party’s fortunes.

It just so happens that UKIP originally chose purple, no doubt because Red and Blue were already taken by the mainstream. Almost by chance, UKIP finds itself owning the branding that suggestions of Blue Labour and Red Tory might ultimately lead to.

Globally, purple is used in politics to represent a mix of different ideologies or new protest movements. In the early days of UKIP, purple was the perfect colour – it neither associated the party with the Conservatives or Labour but instead represented only a half-leap for each and maintained criticism of both. UKIP’s ownership of purple also prevents either Labour or the Conservatives moving their own branding in the same direction of travel as their political philosophy. 

However as fortunate as this may seem, there are in fact many problems with purple. It represents neither the passion of red nor the credibility of blue.  It embraces both sides, but it inspires none of the tribal loyalty.  It is a cocktail that is neither crisp and pure nor revolutionary and powerful; for want of a better phrase, purple is a grey area. It splits the tribe. UKIP must change it.

Purple served the party well in the early days for the reasons mentioned above but UKIP no longer desires to be seen as a party of protest or a mixed message.  Instead its future is as a mainstream rival to Labour and the Conservatives. Rather than splitting the tribe which has nevertheless served them well thus far, UKIP must now seek to inspire its own tribal loyalty. Just as both mainstream parties rebranded to take their message to the next level, so must UKIP. 

Colour psychologists will tell you that purple has a cartoon-like effect.  It has connotations of fun and gaiety – and by association a lack of seriousness or credibility. Purple and yellow are complimentary colours and are often used by advertising agencies for products which seek to convey youthfulness and levity. Perhaps then, while purple has had some historic advantage for UKIP, it may now be holding the party back from taking its message to the next level. 

The challenge for UKIP now is to rebrand in such a way as to maintain the advantages of purple – that it is halfway between blue and red – whilst minimising the negative associations of irresponsibility engendered by purple. It must re/create a brand which no longer represents a place for the disaffected from the red and blue tribes to gather, but rather a separate and distinct tribe of its own.  But what colour would do that?

Toning down the blue in UKIP purple would have the effect of making the colour bolder and more passionate but without risking flying too close to the red of Socialism. Just as the Conservatives retained some blue in the oak tree motif and New Labour never strayed from Red Flag red, continuity is crucially important to brand identity.

A move towards maroon – the colour of academic offices, traditional British motorcars and valour – would represent the start of the next stage of UKIP’s political journey. Maroon can be tribal too; think West Ham and Aston Villa.  Now think of a team that plays in purple.  Think of one? Didn’t think so. I’ll help you out; Liverpool do actually – it’s their third kit. 

Maroon is essentially nothing more than a different shade of purple and so retains the necessary branding continuity as well as somehow appealing to traditional blue and red voters; but crucially, it is more serious when it comes to perception. For colour psychologists, maroon is the colour of sacrifice and bravery and it is seen as both traditional and powerful in the eye of the beholder.  It is the colour of life blood, heritage and power. It also happens to work very well with UKIP’s secondary brand colour – yellow gold.

There are changes other than colour which must also be made if UKIP are to progress towards legitimacy and ultimately Westminster. The pound logo which once symbolised the party’s opposition to potential British membership of the Euro is now representative of an argument which has already been won.

It is no longer relevant in an ideological sense – the complete failure of the Euro has ensured that on UKIP’s behalf.  But the Britishness and solidity that the pound represents must continue to be represented in the logo because a focus on proud British independence is key to both the party’s historic – and its future – success. I recommend a new symbol which both retains the Britishness of Sterling and yet symbolises the party’s Westminster ambitions.

Again, for the purposes of brand continuity, I would recommend an amendment to the theme and take inspiration from the reverse side of a penny. The portcullis represents power, strength and control of access.    

In summary, purple has had a great innings and done some batting for UKIP but despite its advantages as both a halfway-house between Labour and the Conservatives it fails to confer the right message in terms of values, ideology and loyalty. Purple’s positive attributes would remain uncompromised by a switch to maroon but the cartoonish effect of purple’s levity would be tuned into a perception of serious legitimacy. Maroon evokes feelings of gravity, tradition and solidity – and it is also proven to inspire tribal loyalty.

The out-of-date pound argument must leave the branding altogether and instead be replaced with the formidable permanence and protection of a portcullis, but perhaps with a British Lion atop rather than a royal crown.

For me, nothing says ‘Independence’ better than being marooned on an island with the portcullis pulled down.

Martin Horton-Eddison's first work, ‘First Class Essays in Under 24 hours’, is an Amazon Best Seller. His forthcoming polemic ‘The Facebook Infection’ focuses on the use of Facebook as a tool for political persuasion and is due for release later this month

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