Color as a Tool for Visual Persuasion
Lawrence L. Garber, Jr.
Eva M. Hyatt
Appalachian State University
Color is considered to be the most salient and the most “resonant and meaningful” visual feature of those seen in early vision (Hilbert, 1987, p. 2; Sacks, 1995). This makes color a compelling visual cue for persuasive communications purposes, such as conferring identity, meaning, or novelty to an object or idea.
An interesting example that illustrates the powerful and complex workings of color in a persuasive communications context is Pepsico's early 1990s introduction of a clear form of Pepsi, called Crystal Pepsi (cf. Triplett, 1994). It failed. Pepsi was trying to take advantage of a new product color phenomenon, clearness, pioneered at that time by Ivory dishwashing liquid. Ivory had successfully changed the color of its liquid soap from its signature milky white color to a clear form, in order to capitalize on the very eye-catching-ness and excitement of this vivid and surprising departure from the familiar and expected. Pepsico, along with many other consumer packaged good companies in a variety of product categories, believed it could piggyback on the clear visual phenomenon by hurrying its own clear product, Crystal Pepsi, onto the market. However, Pepsi had failed to understand that product color conveys more than sensory experience, as, in this case, clearness connotes more than a distinctive, eye-catching appearance to the cola drinker. Among other things, it creates flavor and other performance expectations. Consumers expected a clear cola to have a lighter, cleaner flavor with fewer calories. However, upon tasting Crystal Pepsi, consumers' expectations were disconfirmed: They got the original Pepsi Cola strength of taste rendered unpalatable by a mere change of color! Even loyal Pepsi fans didn't like it! The moral of the story is that there is a relationship between food color and flavor in color-associated foods, and to change one is to risk changing the other. Ivory Liquid had succeeded because the new color did not change the meaning of the brand: clearness in a dishwashing liquid meant purity and mildness to the consumer, as did the milky color of Ivory before it.