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.


Most of what we know about color is really about "hue". Hue is otherwise known as the pigment of color, what we normally understand as blue, red, yellow, etc. Some studies have found that consumers are physically drawn to warm colors (e.g., red, yellow); but feel that such warm color environments are generally unpleasant. Cooler colors (e.g., green, blue), on the other hand, are more pleasant.

So the colors that attract a customer may be different than the colors that keep a customer.

This result has important implications for marketing (and web site development). It means that certain colors may be more effectively used for different products or web pages, or that for a given product different colors can serve different strategic uses. For example, did it ever occur to you that many fast food restaurants use red, orange and yellow (McDonald's, Burger King, Carl's Jr.). This may be to attract the customer to the establishment. To keep the customer there, however an argument can be made that the interior of the restaurant should be bathed in blue or green.


A second dimension of color is "chroma". Chroma relates to the proportion of pigment in the color and indicates the degree of "saturation' of the color. Low chroma colors appear to be dull and high chroma colors appear to be rich and deep.

A high level of chroma is generally perceived by consumers to be exciting.

Finally, color is also defined by "value". Value relates to the degree of lightness or darkness of the color in relation to a neutral scale which ranges from pure black to pure white. High value colors have a whitish tint to them and low value colors have a blackish tint to them. Value is linked to relaxation.

Higher value colors are perceived as relaxing to consumers.

It is important to note again however, that because of its prominence, one may mistakenly believe that hue has the dominant effect on consumer behavior relative to chroma and value. Interestingly, this is not the case as chroma and value have been shown to have an even greater influence than hue.

So the moral of the story is that if you use the right dimensions of color in combination, you won't just be seeing red and then feeling blue!

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