My dog Winnie is 3 years old. She is a Friesland Stabij– a sort of Dutch spaniel-meets-retriever. Like all Stabij dogs, she is loving, obsessed with licking as a form of hello, loves company, prizes used socks above all things and looks like all other stabij dogs. She is black and white with black speckles on her legs. But, from a distance of 100s of metres, I know the tiniest black and white dot at the end of the street is my dog, not somebody elses Stabij. Something about her shape, her size, her colour, how she moves… In three years, I just know the outline, the colour and the mannerisms of my own dog that mean I could spot her a mile away!

As humans, if exposed to the same shape and/or colour of things for long enough we form automatic connections. What colour are subjects you studied at school? Go on… you know they have a colour. For me, Maths is red. English is green. History? Yellow. Assigned different colour notebooks at school, in the first year of study, the colours just stuck. I cant think about these subjects as anything else. My daughter thinks English is red!!! Red!?!?!

And that is why, the colour of our brands, or the shape of them are so critical. They are the first point of branding, the key signpost, the reason that most people spot them on shelf, in an airport, outside a café.

If i asked you to think about Coca Cola, chances are ’red’ and ‘white’ would be one of the first things you thought about. Maybe bottle shape as well? Walkers biscuits? Tartan. Name a red sports car? Of course, you thought Ferrari.

That is why, as marketers, we must celebrate our colours and our shapes that we own. Occasionally, somebody comes along and says ‘’its always been like this, so we need to modernise’.’ Beware the careless moderniser when it comes to colour and shape. Years of human neuro connection snuffed out in an instant.

Mess around with the colour branding of Bertolli at your peril, as I found out!

In my talk at MAD//Fest this summer I mentioned my own calamity. In my storied marketing past, I once covered half my 500g pastel blue and green Bertolli margarine pack in black. With a Pavarotti signature on it, it declared that you had the chance to win tickets! Pavarotti’s final ever UK concert no less. This was an on pack competition set to drive growth like nothing before. Except it didn’t. Sales slumped on that pack. Sales of the the 250g pack took off - why? In the three seconds consumers looked for it, they couldn’t find the distinctive green and blue 500g Bertolli pack, (because it was half black, see above). So they bought the smaller pack instead. Not my finest hour…

So next time you find yourself in your local supermarket consider what you are doing and how you are doing it. Chances are you along with many others that day, are rushing down the central aisle and looking down each aisle scanning quickly for that distinctive colour block that signifies you are in the right place for Heinz Baked beans, or Cadbury's chocolate or Magnum Ice cream. Colour and shape, are one of the key marketing tools of the trade. Treat it with reverence and it will reward you many times over in the years to come.

I do admit, occasionally, I have seen the odd yellow Ferrari. But, I think we can all agree, the purchaser must have buyers remorse!   

Pete will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.