Strategies & Insights

The Charms of Color: The power to persuade can be only a shade or two away.

Posted: March 26, 2012 by
Jackie DeLise

Color is a powerful part of a package designer’s subliminal tool kit. It has the ability to quickly sway consumer preferences and influence brand loyalties. A consumer reacts to the color of an object within 90 seconds of viewing it, according to Jill Morton, color psychologist and branding expert at Recent research from color authority Pantone found that more than two-thirds of adult consumers take package color into consideration when making product purchases.
For brand owners and package designers who harness the power of this tool, the rewards can be great. That’s why Cadbury took such pains to protect the use of purple for its packaging for chocolate bars and drinking chocolate, successfully fighting a recent challenge to its trademark of Pantone 2865.
For Morton Salt, the package’s navy blue color is as iconic as its Umbrella Girl character and slogan, “When It Rains It Pours.” The color and brand mark have served Morton Salt well since they first appeared in 1914.
In much the same way that U.S. consumers know to look for the navy blue when shopping for Morton Salt, U.K. consumers scan grocery aisles for the familiar Heinz Beanz turquoise packaging. The brand, which started in the 1940s, sells approximately 485 million cans of beans in the U.K. every year and now uses multiple packaging formats with diverse materials. To make sure that consumers are greeted by the same turquoise color, Heinz upgraded how it manages color across different package structures and materials (see sidebar, page 26).
Color as a communicator
For Tabasco, red is more than a tool to help consumers quickly identify the brand in grocery aisles. It also conveys the key taste attribute of its original Tabasco sauce: spicy.
To highlight the deep red of the sauce, McIlhenny Company has long used clear glass bottles that enable the product color to become the backdrop. The company then adds green neck bands and red caps that pack a powerful visual punch while showcasing the red.
Part of the reason why this color strategy works is red’s meaning in Western cultures. In addition to spiciness and heat, red represents danger, love and passion. The McIlhenny Company, at one point or another, has used all of these subliminal messages to market Tabasco.
In other cultures, red can convey very different messages: In India, red is a color of purity; in China, it signifies good luck; and in South Africa, it’s a color of mourning.
The art and science behind how color is used to convey messages and how these messages are interpreted is called color semiotics. This is such a powerful and complex tool that eight international universities have formed the group CREATE (Colour Research for European Advanced Technology Employment) to cultivate knowledge about printed color.
Ph.D. student Maryam Mohammadzadeh Daroodi is researching color and communications as part of the CREATE project. She stresses that the messages color communicates are “significantly affected by parameters such as age, gender, culture and nationality”; thus, finding a color that means the same thing everywhere may be an exercise in futility.
“It’s important to understand the cultural aspects,” she adds. “For example, white is dominantly used for wedding ceremony gowns in
Western and some Eastern cultures, while red plays the same role in a country such as India. This doesn’t mean that color semiotics should not be used for worldwide brands; it should be studied with more depth.”
Breaking from convention reaps rewards
Some of the messages consumers receive from color come from their cultures, and others are more organic in their origins. For example, the color red can bring to mind the taste of a ripe tomato, which is why it’s such an obvious choice for ketchup packaging.
Sometimes, though, the best way to boost sales is to break from convention. At the turn of the millennium, Heinz introduced EZ Squirt. This ketchup line was dressed in colorful shrink-sleeved bottles and boasted variety names such as Blastin’ Green, Funky Purple and Stellar Blue.
The labels and color-coded caps added zest to an otherwise staid, mature category. To pump up the novelty factor even further, Heinz added food coloring to the sauces—creating green, purple, pink, orange, teal and blue ketchups.
The colored ketchups quickly became popular novelty products. In less than three years following the line’s introduction, more than 25 million bottles were sold. The limited-edition product captured widespread appeal—all thanks to color.
Color creates such strong impressions on consumers’ psyches that it can spur a reaction without a conscious call to action. Purchasing decisions are made even before seeing the brand’s logo because color makes brand recall instantaneous. Package designers and brand owners who don’t underestimate color’s powerful effects can wield its power as a strategic brand-and design-planning tool to greatly influence consumer brand choices and preferences. PD



Four tips for successful color reproduction
No matter how carefully colors are chosen for a package design, none of it matters if the colors can’t be reproduced accurately and cost-effectively. To gain some insight on how to ensure that specified colors print correctly, Package Design spoke to Don Droppo, CEO of Curtis Packaging.

1) Know the strengths and limitations of your suppliers. Many commercial printing companies primarily print using four-color process (4CP) with an occasional spot color. Traditional solid colors, such as reds and greens, can be easily created using 4CP inks. But exotic colors or pastels can be very difficult to simulate using 4CP.

2) Consider six-color process printing. Also known by monikers such as Hexachrome or HiFi Color, the six-color printing process can considerably augment process color.

3) Ask about your printing company’s press configurations. Running a printed sheet through a press twice unnecessarily can add expense and may compromise the print quality. For example, the last thing a designer would want to do is to design seven-color art to be printed on a six-color press.

4) Make sure your file is expertly color corrected. The path to a crisp, vibrantly printed package starts with a well-
prepared file with precise color correction.

Getting the color right, every time
Since the early 1940s, Heinz Beanz has been a British breakfast staple. Today, more than 1 million cans of Heinz Beanz are consumed in the U.K. daily.
In addition to the familiar cans with the paper labels, Heinz has introduced new packaging for modern British lifestyles, including a resealable Fridge Pack that uses a gravure-printed shrink pack, and single-portion Snap Pots housed in a multi-pack, litho-printed carton.
With each new package design, Heinz faced a new challenge. Different substrates and printing processes made it difficult to achieve consistent color, and the layering of substrates exaggerated the differences. Reproduction of the Heinz turquoise across these different materials and processes was inconsistent—
sometimes the trademark Heinz Beanz turquoise even looked like a greenish yellow.
To understand why the color was shifting, Heinz worked with Pantone and branding agency Sun Branding Solutions to conduct a color audit of the Heinz Beanz color palette. Using X-Rite instruments—including the SpectroEye, a handheld, portable spectrophotometer that measures, monitors and controls special colors—the audit determined that Heinz paper labels appeared as a color match for shoppers the majority of the time.
The challenge came with the flexo- and gravure-printed shrink film and
litho-printed carton board, where the all-important turquoise was never within Heinz’s specification. The problem was exacerbated at the point of sale, where individual cans are displayed alongside multipack versions.
To gain consistency and control over its colors, Heinz moved to a new dynamic color system called PantoneLive. The cloud-based system enabled Heinz to digitize its processes and determine a true brand color for accuracy and consistency across a variety of substrates.
PantoneLive uses CxF (Color Exchange Format) as the file format for color metadata that’s communicated throughout the supply chain. This helps Heinz to communicate color expectations and correctly measure and determine tolerances for its supply chain partners. This also helps ensure that color prints are measured and verified using scientific, spectral data instead of subjective, visual evaluations.
According to Nigel Dickie, director of corporate and government affairs for Heinz, moving to the digital, cloud-based system reduced color variance by 50% across all packaging formats.

For more information, visit
Curtis Packaging,
J.L. Morton,
Pantone Inc.,
Sun Branding Solutions,


Jackie DeLise ( is vice president of branding and packaging agency HMSDesign (www. in Fairfield, CT.