Full marks to Waterstones for the advert it ran in a national newspaper on Saturday. The bookseller may have had its fair share of troubles, but its marketing department knows a good thing when it sees one and in this instance, this appears to have been Waitrose.

Full marks to Waterstones for the advert it ran in a national newspaper on Saturday. The bookseller may have had its fair share of troubles, but its marketing department knows a good thing when it sees one and in this instance, this appears to have been Waitrose.

Waterstone’s advert

The Waterstone’s advert ran in Saturday’s Guardian.

Looking without seeing, when you turn the page on this ad, what your brain tells you is that you’re faced by an advert for a supermarket. It does so by the strategic use of a pea-green font set against a white background, accompanied by a single W in black at the top right. Add to this the picture of peas in a pod and all of the signs are there - this is a promotion for fresh vegetables by one of the more vibrant players in the UK’s food retailing panorama.

The thing is, it isn’t. On close examination you realize that this is an advert for, among other things, a new book of recipes by Jamie Oliver and the green font is used to tell you that you can buy the tome for half price via the Waterstones website.

Two things spring to mind. It’s amazing how closely a colour can be associated with a retailer and equally suprising how easily this can be used to dupe you into thinking that you’re looking at something that you’re not. Anyway, the advert had the desired effect: you gave it the time of day and then thought perhaps about why you had done so.

Something of the kind may be about to happen with fashion retailer Gap following its announcement last week that it would be using a new logo that features a black font with a small smudgy blue box near it. The whole thing is set against a white background instead of the usual and very specific blue that has become so closely associated with the retailer.

There’s been a minor outcry about this that is, on balance, somewhat difficult to understand. OK, we may like our brands to stand as beacons of dependability in a changing world, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t occasionally change in the same way as we do.

In Waterstones’ case, there is an understanding that by playing with a colour that is shorthand for another brand, it can promote its message more appropriately and effectively. For Gap, it’s a matter of giving us all a bit of a shake to make us sit up and take notice. Soon enough it will all become familiar once more…until the next time it happens somewhere else.