The Science of Packaging Colour

The Science of Packaging Colour

Packaging plays a pivotal role in the success or failure of any product in a competitive market. Learn what stands out, attracts, engages or turns off shoppers!

Packaging becomes a critical factor in the purchase decision-making process because it communicates to shoppers at the time they are deciding in the store. It influences their choice and therefore should be a key aspect of product marketing strategies.

Packaging, without a shadow of doubt, exerts a significant impact on shopper decisions at the point of purchase. There is now a growing consensus among researchers and practitioners in the field of marketing and business that packaging plays a pivotal role in the success or failure of any product in a competitive market.

The functions which packaging is required to perform are fundamental and complex. Packaging is intimately related to marketing communications, logistics and distribution management, sustainable marketing, and branding. Specifically packaging serves three main communication functions:

  1. Communication of information including content, and means of handling,
  2. Promoting the product
  3. Enhancing communication with shoppers

Packaging becomes a critical factor in the purchase decision-making process because it communicates to shoppers at the time they are deciding in the store. I’d go as far as to claim that the way shoppers perceive the subjective entity of products they want to purchase, as represented through graphics, colour, design, and communication elements of the packaging, influences their choice and therefore should be a key aspect of product marketing strategies.

The Role of Colour

Colour is an excellent source of information. It is estimated that 62-90 per cent of persons' assessments and evaluations is based on colours alone. Colours can have dramatic and profound impact on shopper thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This is why marketers have long employed colour as a visual mnemonic device to grasp shopper attention and drive engagement and sales.

Based on the studies conducted to date examining packaging colour, it is concluded that consumers take advantage of colours as stimulus-based information and packaging colour captures shopper attention and can communicate the information about the product at the point of purchase.

It is imperative to stress that colours are of primary importance in persons' daily life and especially in marketing, branding, packaging, and product sales.

Colour is Everywhere.

Open your eyes, and everything around you is radiating with colour, blue, red, yellow, green, the list never ends. We’re surrounded by colour. With such an important topic, you’d think there would be lots of research available right? Surprisingly, there is relatively little out there. In fact, a Google Scholar search for ‘Color Psychology’ returned less than 2,500 studies. However, there are insights available, and I summarise a selection of them here.

Firstly, in Western cultures, blue is the ‘favourite colour’ of most people. Researchers have suggested that colour associations may have been formulated early in human history when man associated dark blue with night, and therefore, passivity and bright yellow with sunlight and arousal.

This could also explain why, generally, men prefer blue, and women prefer pink. Researchers argue that those differences emerged from an Evolutionary bias grounded in a hunter-gatherer mindset. In the times of our ancestors, females were the gatherers. They needed to find food sources by identifying red and yellow fruit among green foliage. Therefore, colour vision and, the ability to discriminate red wavelengths, may have a greater significance for foragers (women) than for resource protectors (men) and so contribute to modern day visual biases and object/brand preferences.

Secondly, according to researchers, we develop preferences for colours, based on our emotional experiences with those colours over time. The more enjoyment and positive affect a person receives from experiences with objects of a given colour, the more the person will tend to like that colour. Classical conditioning supports this. In one study, researchers paired different coloured pens with pleasant or unpleasant music. At the end of the experiment, participants were more likely to take home a coloured pen that was paired with pleasant music. Thirdly, colours possess different meanings depending on the context. For example, red, in a dating context, elicits feelings of passion and attraction. That’s why women find men to be more attractive in online dating if those men are wearing red in their photograph.

But red holds different meanings in other scenarios. In success or failure related situations, we associate red with failure, partly due to the frequent use of red pens in school exams and assessments by teachers. Researchers have proved this by identifying that people perform worse in IQ tests after being exposed to the colour red.

Finally, researchers exposed people to various colours, and they studied their brains using electroencephalography (EEG). When a favourite colour was present in the background, participant’s brains became activated before they consciously noticed it. Proof that colour subconsciously captures our attention.

What Makes a Good Colour for Your Brand?

Marketers often choose colours based on subjective preferences; the colours that they think people will prefer. However, that’s usually the wrong approach. You need also to consider the appropriateness of a colour. For example, most people prefer blue to brown. But suppose that you’re buying a dining table. What colour would you prefer? More people would choose brown because it seems more appropriate.

Conversely, who in their right mind would market a sports car in brown? Much better to market it in red. But if you are marketing headache tablets, remember that people who have a headache and want to have something that relieves the pain and cures it, do not want to have something that reminds them of blood.

Concluding Remarks and Suggestions for Future Research

Colour psychology will never be a formulaic science. A growing body of research investigating the effect of packaging and the role of different aspects such as graphics, design, and colour contribute to the success of branding and marketing. Therefore, brands and retailers should consider variables which exert influence on packaging.

"Be alert to the wide-ranging effects and functions of packaging and packaging colours"

When considering packaging colours, there are several important aspects that can and will influence shoppers, including, colour aesthetics, colour communication or meanings expressed by colours, colour attention, and even the roles of colour in different contexts and cultures.

In conclusion, the psychology behind the colour of product packaging, the functions of colour, and assessment and calibration of lightness, chroma, and hue all contribute to the success of failure of brands. Next time you choose a colour, consider both how certain colours will influence shoppers and consumers, and which colours will create your desired consumer perception and shopping behaviour.

Adcock Solutions have been improving the marketing communications of leading brands and retailers for more than 25 years. We explain how your customers think and make decisions so that you can engage with them more effectively.

Come to us for Behavioural Science insights and expertise that improve your brand's visibility, appeal, engagement, and sales.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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