Color is emotional. It evokes certain feelings in everyone whether they realize it or not. And while those feelings will differ person to person, they can’t be avoided.
Seeing is Believing
Because color is tied so closely to emotion, it affects everything, especially everyday decision making. And when it comes to purchase decisions, color is key.
When consumers see a product, they make an initial judgement about it in 2 to 3 seconds. In this tiny window of time, they form an opinion that could make or break the purchase decision. And since this opinion is usually based only what consumers see, color influences up to 90% of the decision.
Sight is one of the first decision makers when it comes to food, but why? Why does color have so much impact on consumers and the products we sell them as brands?
Every child begins to experience different foods at some point in their early life. Based on this early exploration, children learn to associate different cues.
Bananas have a certain taste, and that taste gets paired with the image of a curved fruit with a bright yellow peel. Similarly, children associate the smooth and sweet taste of chocolate with rich brown coloring.
All people develop links between smells, tastes, and colors with the foods in their environment. These links stay in our brains as we grow, and they influence what we eat and what we buy as consumers.
So why are consumers so drawn to certain colors?
Opinions are formed about products in only 2 to 3 seconds because consumers are searching for something familiar in a product. It only takes several seconds to jolt a spark of recognition, or to realize there is no recognition.
When familiar images or colors are present on packaging, there is something familiar to identify with. This immediate identification can create understanding to help draw consumers to a product.
If there is nothing familiar about a package, the consumer is going to have a different interaction with the product in that few second window. They are going to form their own associations from what they see – associations that may be positive or negative. Without a connection to draw them in and anchor them, consumers might move on.
Without any familiarity, the best-case scenario would be that consumers read the label and look at the product to find something to connect to. But this is never guaranteed.
Forming an immediate connection with consumers is the sure way to go. With so many options for consumers to choose from, brands need to use whatever advantages they can.
While it is true that creativity is a central element of packaging design, don’t go too wild with color. Because initial Color – Food associations are so ingrained in our brains, anything that strays too far from the known can confuse consumers. And confused consumers will not become customers. For example – While it might be unique to create sleek black packaging for a product like carrot baby food, that is too radically different from associations that consumers know and trust.
However, sometimes straying away from the norm can be successful – especially if household name brands have paved the way. Take the Mac and Cheese market for example. Kraft anf Velveeta are two of the most popular brands in the category, and both have yellow and royal blue packaging.
Because shoppers are used to seeing this color scheme with these popular brands of Mac and Cheese, they have come to associate these colors with the product. And further, they have come to trust this association. So it makes sense why other, less known Mac and Cheese brands have also been known to use this color scheme on their packaging too. Even if consumers aren’t familiar with the brand, they unconsciously know and trust the association.
The bottom line is to use design to create that initial connection with the consumer. Connect with their understanding of color and taste as a first priority. Once that connection has been established, design the rest of the packaging to pleasantly surprise the customer by adding differentiation between your product and all others.
A Color Wheel for Brands
All colors evoke different feelings and communicate different meanings. Here are what certain colors can mean for products:
- Red and Yellow: These two colors are warm, appetizing, stimulating, and attention-grabbing. They are commonly associated with fast food like McDonalds, so it is rare to see a health food with bright red and yellow packaging.
- Orange: This color is a subdued version of red or yellow. It is still appetizing, but also warm and friendly. It is more ‘approachable’ and often used with snack foods like Goldfish or Cheetos.
- Green: This color can feel very natural and eco-friendly, as long as its associated with corresponding foods like veggie straws or applesauce. If it is used with unrelated foods, consumers can find it off-putting.
- Blue and Purple: These two colors are cool tones, which don’t normally stimulate the appetite. But if they are used with corresponding foods like blueberries or grapes, they can work well. Also, they work very well in combination with other colors and can be very recognizable, like the blue Oreos packaging.
- Black and Metallic: These colors communicate luxury and are commonly used with top tier products like gourmet chocolate and liquor.
- White: As usual, this color is pure, fresh, and clean. It is commonly used for dairy products and non-dairy alternatives. It is also popular among modern artisanal food brands going for minimalist packaging.
- Earth Tones: These colors are wholesome, natural, homey, and eco-friendly. They are often used for food products like breads and granolas.
- Bright Colors and Neons: These colors are fun, sweet, and unique. They are most commonly used for food marketed to children, including sweets, desserts, and cereals. However, touches of bright color can be found on most packages.
Food for Thought
While these color associations are common, they are not set in stone. This is especially true once colors are being combined. Any of these meanings can change based on what colors you choose to pair together on your packaging.
Also, while all colors mean different things, it goes even further than that. The same color is different shades or tones can evoke different feelings, so choose wisely.
In the end, the colors you choose for your packaging should match up with your brand message and product mood. Use color to tell your consumer exactly what they need to know about your product just by looking at it.