Police Cars and Visual Branding

Posted by on May 9th, 2013

Close your eyes for just a second, and picture a police car. What do you see? Our bet says that you picture something painted in black and white, probably with a police logo emblazoned on the side.

Fort Collins’ police force agrees with us. After a recent research study proved that the black-and-white cars are more recognizable and easier to notice when driving around, the city plans to replace 20% of its fleet with the new design by the end of the year. If you’re interested, you can catch the full article at the Denver Post.

This is a great example of almost perfect brand parity though color association. When you see a car – any car – painted in black and white, your first response is to tap the breaks, slow down, and make sure you aren’t violating any laws. This visual identity is so ingrained in the American sub-conscious that we’ll bet you do a double take the second you see a black car with a white door on it.

A lot of newer police cars have chosen to forgo this design in favor of a plain white or black background with discreet lettering on the side. We’re sure this leads to a lot more tickets, since there are a thousand single-colored car on the road. Yes, they’re labeled on the side – but should you really be reading the cars around you while you’re going 65 MPH down the freeway?

There’s a reason we all recognize the black-and-white police car; the design has been around as long as anyone can remember. Over the years, there have been variations in make, model, and paint job, but the black-and-white colors have almost always stayed the same.

If you’re anything like us, you don’t just want to read about these designs; you want to see them as well. So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite black-and-white designs. (To get the full effect, we recommend listening to the Cops theme song as you flip through the images.)

Here's a classic "Black and White"... and look at the grill on the front of this car. So awesome!

Here’s a classic “Black and White”… and look at the grill on the front of this car. So awesome!

We can't be sure what color this car was, since it's so old (1920s). But since the photo is black and white, it counts!

We can’t be sure what color this car was, since it’s so old (1920s). But since the photo is black and white, it counts!

Another classic Black and White with badge emblem on the door.

Another classic Black and White with badge emblem on the door.

Here's an example of the current Fort Collins design. It's pretty, but not as easy to recognize.

Here’s an example of the current Fort Collins design. It’s pretty, but not as easy to recognize.

Here's the kind of car we picture when someone says "police." This traditional design has been around for what seems like forever.

Here’s the kind of car we picture when someone says “police.” This traditional design has been around for what seems like forever.

The new Ford Interceptor police car, without any county-specific branding. Fort Collins is ordering 27 of these environmentally efficient cars. Check out that design on the side!

The new Ford Interceptor police car, without any county-specific branding. Fort Collins is ordering 27 of these environmentally efficient cars. Check out that design on the side!

According to Sylvester Stallone's Demolition Man, this is what police cars will look like in 2032. That's less than 20 years away! We guess that, even in the future, police cars will still be black and white.

According to Sylvester Stallone’s Demolition Man, this is what police cars will look like in 2032. That’s less than 20 years away! We guess that, even in the future, police cars will still be black and white.

About 

Kandra is influenced in her design by everything from Hubble Space Telescope imagery to the strawberry plants in her garden. Her concepts are known for their characteristic combination of warmth, simplicity and functionality, and for their strong resonance with her clients’ brand and corporate identities.

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