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The Somewhat Mysterious and Altogether Ambiguous Art of Selecting the “Right Color”

By: Chris Pandis
Posted: April 7, 2011, from the April 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Generally, they will try to give the market what it wants. If consumers seem hungry for technology, they can develop a product that has that digital appeal: a new touch-friendly interface for a hand-held device or a cosmetics package that slides open like a cellular phone. If customers are concerned about economic problems and possible job loss, developers can create products that allow buyers to feel sensible, responsible and conservative.

As noted, all of these emotions have allegories in color. Warm reds and golds and soft browns and grays can help consumers feel safe. Flirty pinks, lime greens and luminous orange can tap into a feeling of youthful fun. Neon blues, electric purples and shiny blacks invoke high-tech. Marry these kinds of colors with a product intended to appeal to the same sensibilities and you magnify the effect. You create a difference, if only subtle, that can prompt a shopper to choose your product instead of another even though it may be almost identical except for its color.

However, while color experts may be able to say that a mossy green or a turquoise or a coral red might tap into a consumer’s environmental consciousness, there are no guarantees. You can’t make a non-sustainable product into an earth-friendly one simply by coloring it green. But if your product is made of all natural ingredients, the minimal packaging is compostable or recyclable, and your company operates responsibly, then you could call attention to these positive attributes with colors that are drawn from the natural world.

No Easy Answers

It is easy to fall into the trap of looking for the “next hot color.” The truth is, however, that there is no such thing. There are colors that connect with certain people at certain times.

Sometimes the appeal reaches a larger demographic group than usual and it seems that “everyone” is buying or wearing the same thing. But successful colors are usually part of broader societal trends. The success or failure of a color used in a particular product or package is a result of much more than selection of the color itself. It really has to do with how well the product and the color connect with a consumer under market conditions. You can’t rely on the fact that “this particular blue” will be successful, but you may be able to predict that “a light, silvery, slightly electric blue that suggests a confluence of space, time and technology” is more likely to successfully connect with consumers who are tuned into “the blending of the human and the technological.”