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Marketing Unplugged: This tastes so … white!

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Marketing Unplugged: This tastes so … white!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog on companies that were using social causes to promote their brands. One of these brands was Coca Cola, which has launched a campaign in the USA and Canada to help save the habitat of the polar bear. As part of this campaign, they have changed their iconic red cans to white.

My son, who studies in Canada, read this article and wrote back to say that he had bought this new white can thinking it was a Diet Coke. Apparently he is not the only one to have made this mistake. Many other consumers did so too.

But what is even more interesting is that people who drank the Coke from the new white cans, thought the taste was different. They thought it was flat. There has been an uproar on social media, which has led to Coke back tracking and is now launching a new red can with the polar bear motif.

This is the bit that fascinates me. That a change in colour in the packaging is enough to make people say that the taste of the product has changed. Need we say more about the power of colour?

I have written previously about how consumers are irrational and about the importance of studying culture. Well, colour is a manifestation of both these ideas. Colour creates feelings that we aren’t able to explain in rational terms. And the same colour evokes different feelings in different cultures.

For some irrational and cultural reasons, red and white is the best colour combination to use for a brand. Look at the leading brands in many different categories and you will see that the leader is red and white. Coca Cola is an obvious example, and before it Thums Up had the same colour scheme. Colgate, Airtel, Wills Navy Cut, Lifebuoy, Toyota, and, of course, Red & White, have all gained from using this colour combination. Sports teams think this is a good colour scheme to use and brings them luck. Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have certainly benefitted, though Delhi Daredevils may not be so sure. And let’s not forget the Red Cross and the symbol of medicine generally.

So, red is a great colour in most cultures. In India, it is the colour of marriage and signifies purity. In China, it is the colour of celebration. In Anglo Saxon cultures, it is the colour of passion and love, though it also signifies danger. But it is not universally liked. In South Africa and some other places, red is the colour of mourning. In fact, the Red Cross has changed its colours to green and white in those countries.

White, on the other hand, is all about purity. It is light and mild. So, it is a good colour to use in brand extensions to signify a diet, or mild version. Green is the colour of nature. So it works for brands that are herbal and Ayurvedic.

Having said that, a few brands have benefited by innovating with their colours and going against the grain of their category. For example, the dominant colour in banking is blue. We can see this in the logos of HDFC Bank, State Bank of India, Citibank, Bank of America, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, Bank of India, Yes Bank, Indian Bank and Allahabad Bank. That’s a long list, but actually is only a partial one. In this sea of blue, HSBC has always been red and white.

Perhaps the blue signified royalty and premiumness, while HSBC wanted to be more of a mass brand. Normally finance people hate the colour red (in their world, profits are black and losses are red) and so a few years ago, HSBC decided that there was too much red in its logo and they toned it down and increased the white. I wonder if that made any difference to the perceptions of their service.

More recently, Bank of Baroda has changed its colour to a bright orange to go with their sun logo. Let’s see how that works for BOB. Maybe consumers will think they now have a sunnier disposition. They certainly hope so.

We have always known that colours affect your mood. But guess what, it might even affect the way consumers perceive your product’s taste, service and value.

(Suman Srivastava is Founder and Innovation Artist at “Marketing Unplugged”. He believes that creativity in marketing is too important to be left only to the “Creative” department. So his new company is focused on helping challenger brands create disruptive strategies. Read more at

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