In the 1950s, Pepsi-Cola was looking to shake things up by changing its vending machines in South East Asia from royal blue to light blue. Unfortunately, light blue is associated with death and mourning in that part of the world. Pepsi quickly made the change back to its original color, but by the time it did, sales took a major hit.

Pepsi’s blunder could happen to any company, but it’s one that can be easily avoided with a little research. Jennifer Kyrnin’s Visual Color Symbolism Chart is a great place to start for any company looking to distribute their products abroad.

The right color could mean the difference between your product being a massive success or a disappointment. Colors evoke a physical and emotional response from consumers. Knowing in advance how your color choice will affect your customer can help you make better decisions during your product development process.       

Physical Limits

Men and women rarely see eye to eye when it comes to fashion, furnishing a room or just about anything related to color. No big surprise, but science has an explanation for the differences: testosterone. Researcher Israel Abramov discovered that male hormones affect the visual area of the brain during fetal development. As a result, men need a slightly longer wavelength of a color to “see” the same shade that women do.

Abramov also determined that men struggled to tell the difference between hues. If you are marketing to men, as harsh as it may sound, don't overthink the color selection process. Most men see all shades of blue as just blue. If you are marketing to men, don’t waste time contemplating between presidential blue, ocean blue or any variation of blue when the primary color blue will work just fine. On the other hand, women appreciate the smallest details. Women can distinguish cobalt blue from navy or denim. If you're targeting women, spend the extra time to narrow down the exact color code for product.

Age is another factor that causes people to see color differently. The National Eye Institute documented that the risk of cataracts increases with each decade of life starting around age 40. Cataracts, the clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision, reduces your ability to see color. By age 75, half of white Americans have a cataract. By age 80, 70 percent of white Americans have cataracts, compared with 53 percent of African Americans and 61 percent of Hispanic Americans.

Cataracts cause a person to see everything with a brownish tint. They also make it hard for people to distinguish blues from blacks and browns or blues from greens and purples. If you are marketing to seniors, you may want to use bright colors to avoid any confusion.

Emotional Preferences

Marketing to customers’ emotional preferences and connecting to them on an emotional level is much easier than planning around their physical reactions to color. You just need to weed out some color myths.

Going with cultural norms, you would automatically choose blue for boys and pink for girls. Unfortunately, the tradition of gender identification is misleading. A 2003 University of Washington research project conducted by Joe Hallock revealed that blue was the overwhelming favorite color for every demographic surveyed.

Blue was favored 57 percent of the time by men and 35 percent of the time by women. Green was the second most popular choice for men (14 percent), while purple (23 percent) was the runner-up for women. Blue was also the color of choice across all age groups, from 0-18 all the way up to 70-plus. If you are in the product development phase, don’t hesitate to branch out past traditional color norms.

Getting to know the emotions associated with the colors can help you make a better connection with your customers. Hallock’s study also showed that consumers connected orange, yellow and brown with cheap or inexpensive. Those colors also were the least favorite overall for adults.

The University of Missouri-Columbia conducted a study to see how logo color affects consumer emotion toward brands. They discovered:

  • Blue – conjured feelings of confidence, success and reliability
  • Green – crafted perceptions of environmental friendliness, toughness, durability, masculinity and sustainability
  • Purple – invoked femininity, glamor and charm
  • Pink – gave the perception of youth, imagination and fashionableness
  • Yellow – created perceptions of fun and modernity
  • Red – brought feelings of expertise and self-assurance

Implementing the correct colors for your product is crucial – the colors must match the tone and demeanor of your intended target market. Red brings out feelings of expertise and self-assurance. Look around and you’ll see red used for exit signs, emergency telephones and fire alarms. Take these same products, wrap them in green plastic instead of red and you will create an entirely different vibe. If you are looking to make a good first impression with potential customers, choose your colors wisely. The emotions generated must match their expectations.

Know the Trends

Remember, color affects different people in different ways. Be sure to understand the gender, age and culture of your target market.

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