By  on January 12, 2005

NEW YORK — As the pace of life accelerates, marketers are starting to use colors to appeal to people who are either finding ways to move faster or to slow down.

With technologies from computers to digital photography speeding up the rate at which information is obtained and assimilated, people are responding primarily in two ways, related Cheryl Swanson, principal of brand-image development firm Toniq. One camp is adding energizing strategies and taking on more tasks than ever at a single time, a trend Swanson terms “forced evolution,” while the other is looking to regain a sense of balance by indulging in personal creativity, spirituality and experiential luxuries — a dynamic the brand-image specialist has dubbed “humanization.”

Companies, in turn, have begun to target people in these two camps through their use of color in their branding messages and products. “A lot of brands are just starting to embrace these two trends,” said Swanson, who projected such efforts will gather momentum over the next five to 10 years.

It’s a savvy strategy, Swanson contended, as color tends to make the biggest visual impression on people as they go about their lives.

“In the hierarchy of visual memory, people tend to remember color first,” Swanson noted. She sees the various attributes of visual memory as powerful marketing tools — particularly color, which is the first visual stimulus babies remember. It’s followed by shapes, numbers and words in the development of visual memory, a hierarchy that continues through adulthood, she said.

Color themes reflecting people’s efforts to slow down and find balance in their lives include:

  • Rainbow after the storm: Vivid, saturated hues suggesting joy and optimism and incorporating a mystical play of light. Bulgari has used this palette in its watches with different-colored faces, like orange and burgundy, as has Dior with its ads drenched in intense, shiny shades.


  • Warm metallics: Copper and soft golds reflecting luxury, as seen in Canon’s slim digital Elph camera, available in a copper tone, and Nissan’s Murano copper SUV.


  • Asian medley: A celebration of the richness and opulence of Asia in intense red, black and white palettes, calmer metallics and translucent pastel pinks and pastel blues. Examples include the red-black-and-white range being used by brands from Hermès to Eileen Fisher, as well as the pastel palette used in Kenzo’s beauty branding.
  • Quiet, contemplative: Colors connoting simplicity and serenity, including cool whites and silvers, icy blues and pale pinks, a range that has been seen in Christy Turlington’s Nuala collection for Puma.

    By comparison, color themes drawing on people’s desire to speed up their lives include:

  • Bold pink: A high-voltage hue to energize and invigorate the senses, as seen in Sephora’s addition of pink to its black-and-white brand communications.

  • Colorama: Bold, bright colors used together, reflecting people’s desire to hypertask, as evidenced in the renewed popularity of Fiestaware and Marimekko products and the fashions of Yves Saint Laurent.


  • Hypercontrasts: Pairing contrasting textures and patterns such as plaids and polkadots; tweeds and microfibers, and, to a lesser extent, nontraditional contrasts of color, like green and purple, or green and orange. Urban Outfitters has mixed wildlife themes with combat-inspired accessories such as boots and bags, while Burberry has paired traditional suits with bright, horizontal-striped rugby shirts or bold T-shirts.
With about 80 percent of our experiences filtered through the eyes, Swanson said, visual cues like color are an effective way to cut through the thickening verbal haze of 21st century marketing messages. “The impulse among advertisers is to say it, versus to represent it, especially in print advertising,” the brand consultant observed. “So a brand has a better chance of penetrating the haze of words we encounter daily if it communicates symbolically.”

Swanson also maintained that visual images tend to breed more consistent messages across marketing platforms than verbal messages. For instance, Target’s use of its trademark bull’s-eye logo in its ads, stores and merchandise, along with its frequent use of the color red, serves as a signpost for the store’s image as a fun and stylish place to shop, she said.

However, color choices made by marketers oughtn’t be arbitrary, as people make associations with various hues, Swanson said. For example, blue tends to conjure a sense of calm and peace; red, power and strength, and yellow, joy and light, she said.

Blue is by far the most popular color globally, rating as a favorite with 40 percent of 12,929 men and women in 17 countries who responded to an online survey entitled “Global Market Bias: Part1–Color.” Purple ran a distant second, grabbing a 14 percent share, followed by green, with 12 percent, and red, with 11 percent (see sidebar and chart).Results of the study were published in October, based on a survey conducted last summer by Cheskin Research, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based marketing and design research firm; MSI-ITM International, a Dutch online researcher, and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library, a San Francisco-based provider of stock photography. Respondents were asked to choose a favorite color and then to rate their favorites among eight colors, as well as various associations they made with them, including countries, companies and products. The eight colors were red, blue, green, purple, orange, yellow, black and white. 

The color project is the first in a research series examining visual and brand language, which will explore brand elasticity around the globe, the impact of noncelebrity spokespeople of varying cultural backgrounds, and brand identity and packaging.

The World's Most Popular Colors

RankColorGlobal Share of PopularityFeeling/Imagery Suggested
1Blue40%Calm, peace, technology, nature
2Purple14%Mystery, mists, royalty
3Green12%Renewal, balance, nature
4Red11%Power, strength, love
5Black8%Ubercool, luxury, chaos
6Orange6%Optimism, hope, warmth, autumn
7Yellow5%Happiness, joy, light
8White4%Innocence, peace, chastity
Source: “Global Market Bias: Part 1 -Color,” October 2004; ToniqColor choices for marketing campaigns ought not be arbitrary, as people make different associations with various hues, advised brand-image specialist Cheryl Swanson.

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