Mellow Yellow

The TBWA/Chiat Day/Tequila office in Los Angeles has bright yellow beams on the ceiling to make the creative teams think and work harder, jokes Justin Prough, creative director responsible for Nissan's campaigns.

Yellow isn't a color you can take in large doses for long periods of time, but in smatters and splatters it can boost creativity and promote joy. Pure yellow emits the most luminosity in comparison to other colors. It's brighter than white, difficult for the human eye to focus on for long stretches, and has a strong emotional impact. The glow makes the human eye cut through other visuals, makes things vibrate, and helps you see taxis traveling up Madison Avenue in Manhattan, danger signs before rounding a mountainous curve, and the Shell gas station sign just before you run out. Yellow journalism is energetic, tabloid, sleazy and sensational.

Spending long durations in a room painted bright yellow has been known to have harsh physiological effects on the body. It can make you anxious, critical and disturbed. Pale yellows, in comparison, tend to calm the nerves and help the mind focus, and retain more information. Our fingers walk through the Yellow Book or the Yellow Pages to find lamps, computers, rugs and more. Yellow highlighters, lined yellow notepads and Post-it notes let us quickly find the important written points on the page. Students who take exams in a room with muted yellow lights tend to produce higher test scores.

Kim Le Liboux, senior vice president and group creative director at McCann Erickson San Francisco, says yellow came to symbolize wealth, worship, sun gods and deities in ancient days because of its association with energy and warmth to grow food and nourish the body.

With this dichotomy, it stands to reason yellow has a multitude of meanings. Asia views yellow as sacred. In ancient China, yellow, reserved for emperors, signifies supreme wisdom and enlightenment. When it accompanies orange on Buddhist robes, yellow signifies intellect, wisdom and intelligence, but it denotes cowardice in the idiom "yellowbelly."

In the United States, yellow moved from flower power on bright daisy stickers in the 1960s to golden hues in the 1970s for carpets, walls and vinyl beanbag chairs. The Sex Pistols's first album cover combined bright yellow and hot pink, which became trendy pop-culture colors, mostly in graphics and clothes. And the red clam on the yellow Shell gasoline sign hovering above gas station pumps signals a place for motorists to stop and fuel their cars.

In Flower Readings, Suzy Chiazzari writes, "Yellow flowers contain uplifting and empowering vibrations that work through the nervous system and stimulate mental functions. Aromas that have similar qualities include the scent of fresh grapefruit and lemon." Sunflowers promote harmony, marigolds encourage communication.

Cindy McCain made a political fashion statement when she wore a yellow Oscar de la Renta dress at the Republican National Convention in September. Vanity Fair estimated the dress to cost $3,000. Brand Keys marketing guru Amy Shea says yellow lacks sophistication, yet adds nostalgia. So, while McCain wore yellow, ads for luxury brands don't typically use the color to target U.S. males, who often associate yellow with juvenilia, cheapness and caution. Kids, food products and dogs do well to convey friendly and approachable. Pedigree wraps its dog food in a bright yellow with hints of red, blue and green, which some say help products fly off store shelves.

 In ads, yellow provides the accent. For a Nortel billboard campaign last year, McCann Erickson San Francisco chose yellow for a bold, declarative headline that conveys optimism. When TBWA/Chiat Day/Tequila designed Nissan Rouge ads for 2007, it used yellow for the vehicle's name and tagline. Those beams had seeped right into their heads.
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