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Color Talk—Connecting With Consumers at Shelf

Liz Grubow

More than ever, it’s imperative for brands to make a statement at shelf, and color is emerging as not only a key strategy in the self-selection process in store, but just as importantly, it is being leveraged as an emotional conduit to consumer attention. Rousing consumer emotions produces a more differentiated and memorable brand experience. As such, brands, specifically in hair care and skin care, are beginning to discard category norms of using color as a brand block in favor of using higher volumes of color for unique product differentiation.

Aesthetics traditionally favored by the cosmetic and fine fragrance categories tend to influence those in hair care and skin care. Of late, a variety of color strategies have been observed—from softer, more muted palettes (e.g., deep whites), to pastels, to “hot highlights” and saturated colors that envelop the entire package. Red, for example, a color historically associated with feminine beauty, is a primary color strategy in Asia, currently being engaged by Vidal Sassoon and Tsubaki Shining Camellia Oil EX, a Shiseido hair care product line, to create a daring, dramatic statement.

Fashion’s Color Influence

This tumultuous economic climate has created a fervor for accessories—always an easy and relatively inexpensive way to add a pop of color to a wardrobe or to refresh an existing outfit. Many of the same colors popularized in accessories are making their way to the shelf, influencing category color trends.

Pink, for example, is always in fashion vogue, varying from pastel hues to sumptuous shades of fuchsia. Again, influenced by the economic reality, pink is seen as a comfort color. Its freshness and vividness offer a glimpse into a bright future. In apparel, pink is to India what black is to the Western world, treated as a neutral, staple color. In Western culture, pink is the color most parents choose for apparel and room décor for newborns and young girls. The practice of assigning pink to the female gender has been widely accepted since the 1940s. From the first stage of life, pink represents calmness, nurturing, innocence and beauty. Pink is also the color most associated with fairy tales and femininity.

It has been suggested that women’s preference for pink is dervied from an affection for reddish objects, such as ripe fruits and healthy faces. In word association studies, light pinks are described as soft, tender, romantic and cute. Pinks also conjure up sweet tastes and sweet scents. Dusty pinks are perceived as soft, soothing, cozy, romantic, rosy and subtle yet sophisticated, while bright pinks are seen as exciting, happy, hot, trendy, attention-getting, energetic, youthful, fun and spirited.

L’Oréal’s EverPure, a hair care line targeting color-treated hair with formulas free of sulfates, is packaged in silver metallic tubes rather than bottles, and it leverages pink stunningly. On shelf, the new range will be merchandised alongside other professionally positioned mass brands, including Nexxus and John Frieda. EverPure is more cosmetic in feel next to these competitors. And, in a bold move, TRESemmé is incorporating pink into its long-standing black color block and recently posted double-digit sales growth in the U.S. and overseas.

In the teen and 20-something segment, the influence of anime and manga (Japanese comics) is prevalent in the Shu Uemura limited-edition line of cleansing oils, which use popular anime characters combined with lively patterns to connect with girls. An offshoot of this trend is Face Boutique, a brand of natural skin care that uses bottles, jars and tubes that are white with brightly colored, illustrated faces. The packaging was designed with the intent that it be considered a decorative accessory appropriate for display on the vanity.

The Pantone Color Institute, a global authority on color and provider of professional color standards for the design industry, forecasted a color palette titled Pastiche, with color combinations such as Soft Lavender and Absinthe Green partnered with Chipmunk Brown. That same shade of brown can be mixed with Mimosa Yellow, Strawberry Ice and Little Boy Blue. Pairings of Bright Cobalt, Tangerine and Duffel Bay Gray were also forecasted. This trend is reflective of the “continuation of the irreverent direction that has been and continues to be influenced by Japanese anime—a movement that has made major inroads into the world of design and color.”

Sweet Obsession

In Asia, trends associated with the population’s obsession with sweets are becoming more and more prevalent, exploiting the arousing, stimulating appeal of bright, textured decorative colors. In Japan, decorated cakes, cupcakes and other desserts are creating a veritable feeding frenzy with Gen X females. Dessert-inspired products are popping up in fashion, accessories, cosmetics, skin care and hair care. The allure of the sweets trend is its lightheartedness and mischievousness, in the way it invokes a feeling of innocence, of being forever young, of memories and pleasures of childhood. Bathing, a line of skin care and bathing products, simulates and is presented like ice cream in an ice cream shop environment—the product is even scooped out and presented in ice cream packaging, completing the theme.

In the U.S., a cupcake craze has been sweeping through the country in the past few years. Because of its cute appearance, affordability, precious size and its ability to transport us back to our memories of simpler times—making cupcakes as children—this dessert of choice has become a metaphor for happiness and is inspiring several products in the U.S., including Lush’s Cupcake Fresh Face Mask, packaged in its standard black pot packaging but looking and smelling like a rich chocolate cupcake (sans frosting) when the lid is removed. Tval Skincare’s Cupcake Soap is fashioned to look like it was plucked directly from a bakery case. It is presented in a cupcake liner, has a candy pink frosting with a hint of white shimmer and is topped with a pink rosebud. To complete the pastry-shop look, it is wrapped in cellophane, tied with a bow and packed in a white box with a ribbon.

Skin Deep in Color

In skin care, many brands are using color in powerful ways to help the consumer navigate product offerings. Olay Deep Facial Cleansers leverage a color palette balancing minty green and light blue, indicative of fresh, deep cleaning. Blum from Jean Pierre Cosmetics uses bright colors and a clear packaging design layout in its Blum Naturals line, with the primary color of the bag on the final packaging a very faint khaki color.

Kathleen Lewis Beauty discreetly labels its products that have a pharmacological vibe with spare, minimalist labeling that meshes both literally and philosophically with the company’s credo of “Do no harm,” an echo of the Hippocratic Oath. Skin care brand R.M. Gattefosse, sold in France and Italy, uses a white backdrop for the aesthetic of its packaging, along with a colorful pictographic system conveying art deco in a contemporary manner. The packaging range by This Works, an award-winning aromatherapy bath, body and skin care line, uses simplicity and color in its design, featuring large-print letters intended to project a sophisticated, modern look.

Hair Highlights

Several hair care brands are effectively using color to appeal to consumers. The Barex Italiana brand noticed an immediate increase in sales when it moved to a color versioning strategy. Barex uses a brightly hued, wide silk-screened band near the top of each package, conveying hair type. Rich lime green, tangerine, hot pink and red provide a fresh, crisp takeaway on the white package.

From LPK’s caseload, the design of Herbal Essences’ new Hydralicious line combines appetite appeal with a strikingly enthusiastic color palette and swirl graphic treatments that simulate movement and energy. The team at Sexy Hair Concepts performed extensive research on color before re-launching its Short Sexy Hair collection with a new color strategy that focuses on yellow, as it is the first color the human eye sees, and has also been a dominant shade this year. Yellow stimulates the brain, and its energy is associated with feelings of wisdom and knowledge. Pantone has taken up a parallel path, engaging yellow as a primary shade, naming it Mimosa, in effort to spark imagination and innovation.

Color Connection

Color, especially in volume, sets the tone and influences mood—connecting emotionally with consumers and inviting a sense of wonder. In the mind of the consumer, color is an influential ambassador of the brand and begins to unlock a message. Brands must deepen their conversation with the consumer. Color as an integral part of brand strategy can provide a renewed interest, simplification of the self-selection process and a deeper, more personal connection with the consumer, resulting in a meaningful brand experience that authenticates the brand story and generates longer lasting customer loyalty.

Liz Grubow is vice president and group creative director of the LPK Beauty Group.In her 20-plus year career, Grubow has helped develop and manage brand identity programs for some of the world’s most successful beauty brands—including Pantene, Olay, MAX Factor International and Cover Girl. She has been recognized internationally by the prestigious London International Advertising Awards for Design and has been bestowed with the Procter & Gamble CEO Design Award.

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