Color Case Studies

By CRAIG KUNCE

Color does affect how consumers respond to products and packaging. In the late 1990s, the apple computer was putty-colored and boring. Apple Computer turned to color to spice things up. In 1998, Apple launched its teal iMac computer and opened up an entirely new approach to computer marketing. With a new color, and a reduction in price, Apple sold more than 800,000 iMacs in the following five months. They followed their teal iMac release with the January 1999 launch of five fruity colors of iMac: blueberry, grape, tangerine, lime and strawberry. Their approach to marketing, although extremely risky and innovative for its time, was well received by consumers (Parmar, 2004). As consumers watched with curiosity, the next three years featured manufacturers from many different industries releasing multicolored product lines. Customers could now buy everything from answering machines to George Foreman countertop grills in several fruity colors.

Consumers’ associations with color in everyday life impacts their choices when they buy products. The status, loyalty, tradition and respect associated with the color blue, for example, transfers to the blue product or blue packaging consumers put into their shopping carts. Consumer color association is a beneficial factor in the marketing of all products and services. The company that best understands that color is an important part of communicating a clear, focused message to their consumers will greatly increase their chances of becoming the leader of their category. Owning a brand color in the hearts and minds of consumers has proven to be an effective way to increase brand loyalty and sales.

Color does affect how consumers respond to products and packaging. In the 1950s, consumer psychologist Louis Cheskin was testing the colors of the flecks Cheer was going to put into its powder laundry detergent. He tried three different color flecks: red, blue and yellow. Consumers responded that they felt the yellow flecks didn’t clean their clothes well enough, they reported that they thought the red flecks actually damaged their clothing, and they felt that the blue-flecked detergent was the only color that cleaned their clothes sufficiently enough. The catch was that the only difference between the flecks was their color. The difference of cleaning quality was purely consumer perception (Heath, 1997).

Small Talk, a research firm on Cincinnati, Ohio, was perplexed when they were doing research on a new board game that targeted girls, aged five to seven years. The game “Perfect Wedding” featured a wedding cake-top bridal couple. The game wasn’t well liked by its target market of young girls. The way the board game’s cover was printed showed the bride with brunette hair and the groom with grayish hair. As it turned out, the young girls immediately noticed the gray hair and didn’t like it. Once the groom’s hair was changed to a more youthful black, sales rose (Heath, 1997).

In order to appeal to men, the design firm of Peterson & Blyth used color to make men feel more comfortable buying what consumers perceived to be a woman’s product. For the shampoo Pantene for Men designers added a deep gray and a bold silver foil-stamped M to the packaging to help attract men and to make the men feel it was “appropriate” to purchase (Gershman, 1987).

Brian Wansink, PhD., Director of the University of Illinois Food & Brand Lab, conducted an experiment with a popular candy bar in a retail environment. Dr. Wansink replaced the popular yellow wrapper of an O’Henry candy bar with a green wrapper. When asked, consumers reported that the candy bar with the green wrapper must have fewer calories, more protein, and fewer calories from fat (Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, 1999).

The late color researcher Carlton Wagner conducted an interesting experiment with coffee packaging in the 1970s and 80s. Mr. Wagner placed the same coffee product into four different colored packages. He chose yellow, brown, blue, and red for his experiment. He then had his participants sample the coffee from each package. The participants whom sampled the brewed coffee from each package reported that the yellow packaged coffee was too weak, the brown package too strong, the blue can too mild, and the red can was judged ideally rich (Kanner, 2001).