Colour Me Crazy: a Study in Spotify

Spotify old v new


After the rather extreme reaction to Spotify’s colour change last month, it really drew attention to the significance brand colours can have on an audience.

In case you missed the furore, it came about when Spotify updated its signature colour from a so-called “broccoli” to a fresher, almost “mint” green. This colour change was all part of a larger on-going brand refresh, and was apparently a unanimous decision within the company, considered so uncontroversial in the Spotify camp that they didn’t even feel the need to mention the update formally.

But unfortunately for them, certain Spotify customers did not consider it a welcome change and reacted vocally online, causing something of a Twitter-storm, and I imagine some internal panic at Spotify.

Was it simply change itself that people reacted against, or was there a genuine antipathy towards the new Spotify green? For some it will be both. For what it’s worth, my feeling is that the gradient had to go. I can take or leave the new colour, but the gradient was tired and dated.

It is clear that people can feel a sense of ownership towards brands, particularly ones they have used regularly for many years. Sudden and unannounced change can be disorientating, especially on digital devices where colour can sometimes fluctuate (note that “is there something wrong with my screen?” was a fairly typical response). There is also something weirdly intrusive about brands making updates to our desktops and mobiles without our consent. When an app icon updates we lose some control over the aesthetic of our digital world, and it can be quite jarring in a way that updating printed materials just isn’t.

The cliché when talking about green and brand personality is to link it to ‘earthiness’, ‘nature’ and ‘health’, and while this is true to a certain extent, it doesn’t seem to apply in Spotify’s case. Colour preference is not universal, but is in fact dictated by a variety of factors, including but not limited to, gender, cultural differences and personal associations. So why then was there such a surprisingly strong attachment to the more ‘earthy’ tone of green? It could all be down to a case of familiarity rather than the colour itself. If Spotify had launched with this colour I doubt people would hold the same level of distaste they claim to feel for it now. Which leads us to our first lesson: Recognition is key. Researchers have found that our brains prefer recognizable brands, and that there is a “real connection between the use of colours and customers’ perceptions of a brand’s personality”, all of which makes changing your brand colour incredibly risky, especially when you’re already a well-established company.

Whatever the reason for the distaste, it clearly came as a surprise to many just how much people cared. In the age before social media (if you can remember such a time), brands would never have received this level of immediate feedback directly from their customers. Other than a few reviews in design journals (barring true catastrophes), the critique of a rebrand would’ve remained under the purview of graphic designers and marketers. Now people have the opportunity to give instant (somewhat hyperbolic) feedback directly to the brand. It is also worth noting that people who liked the change, or were at least ambivalent to it, felt less of a need to post anything at all, and so the online reaction was unfairly skewed towards the negative.

Whilst I myself was initially reticent to the new shade, I have since found that I’ve become used to it and I’m sure it will soon replace any previous colour associations in my mind, although troublingly it has only automatically updated on my desktop and not my (Android) mobile. As a mainly digital application, Spotify have the luxury of being able to make piece-meal updates with relatively little expense, but just because they can, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Part of people’s horror at the change was down to the lack of consistency. Lesson number two: if you’re going to enact a brand refresh, make it universal.

Spotify icon Victoria Addo-Ashong












However, despite all of the above, it must be said that ‘Brand’ is so much more than colour and aesthetic appearance. As long as people genuinely like the service they receive from Spotify, I doubt they will lose much custom if other areas of their brand are on-point. If someone is willing to delete the service over this it’s worth betting that they weren’t a satisfied customer to begin with. Still, brand recognition is a difficult thing to build, and examples such as these just go to show how quickly it can be lost. Spotify have been having a tough time in the media lately, and could really do without the additional controversy. It will be interesting to see how the rest of their brand-refresh plays out, and whether users will be quite so vocal in their reaction to it.







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