Our first entry on the Navigational Hierarchy talked about product and packaging Shape and how shoppers use it to identify categories and individual brands. Following Shape, Color is a powerful element that can cue brands or a category. Capable of triggering persuasive subconscious reactions in shoppers, it is the most emotive of the visual cues. Color can even set expectations for taste, quality, or main benefits.  

Brand Identification 

One of color’s more obvious uses is to distinguish between brands. Coca-Cola’s iconic branding is grounded in its scripted font and iconic red coloring. As an anchor in the soda category, its red packaging immediately greets shoppers as they enter the aisle, letting them know they are in the correct section and reinforcing Coke’s position as the leading soft drink brand. Over the years, the brand has attempted to shake up its traditional packaging color scheme, but when all is said and done, it just isn’t Coca-Cola without the red.  

Another example comes from the Tex-Mex section. Ortega and Old El Paso are two brands that offer similar products in the category (e.g., tortillas, sauces, seasonings, etc.) and use color to differentiate themselves from each other as well as the rest of the category. Both brands have created powerful brand blocks using their packaging colors to make it easy for them to break through with shoppers. 

Brand Block Navigation 

When brands have many different SKUs or sub-lines, they often use colors to help shoppers find the specific variety they need. In potato chips, Lays has built an effective brand block that is navigated, in part, by packaging colored to represent different flavors. This coloring convention has largely been adopted as a category norm which allows shoppers to find the flavor that meets their desires with little effort.  

Absolut Vodka recently underwent a packaging renovation that made color much more prevalent in the design. They ditched their frosted bottles and added color swatches to the back of the original bottles that reflect the intended color toward shoppers. This allowed them to create a more cohesive brand block that gives off much more color while still maintaining the pure connotations associated with their brand. Additionally, the colors are used to navigate the brand block to find the intended flavors like lime, grapefruit, vanilla, and many more.  

Before :: After

Managing Expectations 

When a shopper comes across a new product or packaging, color can help set expectations for its flavor, benefit, quality, or even price. This comes from associations with colors that have been forged over time, but context matters. White in the cleaning supplies category has a much different meaning than it does in food. Blue packaging may suggest artificial in snacks or candy, but in pain relief it’s interpreted as trustworthy. 

The baking mix aisle is composed of products that promise a variety of experiences. Some cue “fun” or “for kids,” while others promise decadence. Godiva’s Molten Lava Cakes mix come from a premium brand that implies quality and uses color to reinforce its position as a sophisticated offering in the category. Framing the Key Visual with black and gold projects a luxury alternative to the usual baking mixes while aligning with the expectations set by the Godiva color scheme. 

Shape and Color provide a strong foundation for brands to build upon. These elements work hard to make sure a product is seen, understood, and wanted, but one element often carries the enormous responsibility of accurately illustrating the product itself and setting experience expectations. In our next post, we’ll talk about Key Visuals and how they can make or break a product’s desirability.  

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