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The Many Dimensions of Color: When Seeing Red Isn't a Bad Thing

by Michael A. Kamins  |  
January 1, 2001

When my son was three months old, I ventured out and made the bold decision to purchase diapers for him, independent of the consultation of my wife. As I arrived home, I realized that I had purchased pink diapers, as opposed to those in blue with oxford stripes. Since the store was far away and nature could call at any minute, I decided to use the diapers anyway.

When my wife entered the room, she was aghast with both surprise and anger! She blurted out…"How could you do this to him, how could you subject him to such humiliation by making him wear pink, they'll think he's a sissy! Return them at once and buy the boy diapers! I responded: "Who would think he's a sissy, his 3 month old friends?"

The point of this story is that the cue that dominated purchase in this example, wasn't brand name, nor perceived quality, it was the attribute of color. This example suggests that color can be used by marketers as a distinguishing and salient attribute to motivate brand choice, and the importance of color on web sites. There are many examples in both the brick and click worlds which illustrates this fact and indeed indicate that color is becoming increasingly important in the development of marketing strategy.

Consider the fact that Apple Computer focuses on color as a distinguishing attribute for their IMAC computer as does Audiovox for their portable CD player.

Rental car companies distinguish themselves in part by the color associated with their company logo (e.g., Hertz is yellow, Avis is red and National is green). Even among cola's, Coke is basically red and Pepsi is blue.


The impact of color as an effective cue has also been recently established in the legal arena. The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that color can serve as a trademark. Case law written in the trademark arena maintains that a lesser brand with only color in common with a major brand can "dilute" the major brand's market presence. One particular case which comes to mind is that of the Hershey company, wherein Hershey sued Mars over their use of an orange package color for their peanut butter cups. Hershey is the owner of the Reeses's brand and they felt that the orange Mars had chosen for their packaging was a bit to close to their own and hence would dilute their image.


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