Originally created 11/30/97

Marketers say what colors we will be buying



This time next year we'll be wearing zephyr-hued clothing, driving tarpon-green cars and eating off dish ware the color of Cajun spice. The walls will be beignet, or maybe dragonfly, and look for lime light in products as varied as sporting goods and vinyl blinds.

So predict the titans of tint at the Color Marketing Group, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade association that for 35 years has sought to bring order to the chaotic chromatic world. The 1,500-member association includes in-house colorists at Fortune 500 companies, as well as independent color consultants whose clients include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Ford Motor Co. and Igloo Products Corp.

The CMG plays a large part in determining what hues will rule the worlds of fashion, automobiles and office decor.

Make no mistake - picking colors is big business. The CMG, and the industries it serves, is well aware millions of dollars are riding on its color forecasts.

The CMG brought us avocado refrigerators in the late 1960s and teal automobiles in the 1990s. Now the association's members are predicting a consumer palette of 1970s-style earth tones, but with a new-era twist. Also look for whiter and brighter hues, as well as deeper, more saturated colors, such as red-hot Cajun spice.

This "color forecast," as the CMG calls it, is based on emerging economic and social trends. "As we move into the millennium, we're becoming more optimistic, so the colors are brighter," said CMG member Pat Verlodt, who owns a color consulting firm in Illinois. "It's like a brave new world, a brave new color."

A strong economy has made consumers more daring and willing to experiment with bright, new, "fun" colors, according to the hue gurus at the CMG.

"You don't have to be timid about color anymore," said Melanie Wood, the association's president. "You can do what you want, and it's OK."

The telecommunications explosion has exposed consumers to vast amounts of information and increased their color savvy. And the interest in the environment is still around, so there will be plenty of green.

"The best product in the world, if it isn't the right color, it won't sell very well," Ms. Wood said. She then recited the association's oft-repeated motto: "Color sells, and the right color sells better."

Consider these examples of products that took off after a color makeover:

A few years back, Igloo Products hired CMG's Mr. Verlodt to advise the company on the "right" color for its coolers. Traditional red, blue and white products weren't selling as well as the company wanted. Mr. Verlodt suggested adding tropical colors - including turquoise and raspberry. Sales shot up 15 percent.

At a consultant's urging, McCormick & Co., the spice giant, changed its packaging for some popular products from drab olive green to deeper forest green. The company saw a significant increase in its market share in the next year.

Even products as mundane as toilet bowl cleanser have benefited from a color redo. In 1990, a consultant decided the light blue and green bottles of Kiwi Brands Ty-D-Bol toilet bowl cleanser were too wimpy. He recommended stark white bottles with lettering on a dark background, a combination that would connote power, strength and cleanliness. Sales jumped nearly 40 percent over the next 18 months.

A key part of choosing the "right" color for a product is recognizing the so-called association factor. Orange, for example, is often associated with cheapness. While that color might work great for a discount store, it's not a color scheme Nordstrom's or Saks Fifth Avenue would want.

Another consideration: Colors don't necessarily cross industry lines. While orange might work as an accent color in fashion - say a scarf - it's unlikely anyone would buy a pumpkin-colored car.

Psychology plays a large part in color selection. Numerous studies have shown that red and other bright colors are activating, while softer tones such as blue are relaxing, said Ayn Crowley, an associate professor of marketing at Drake University in Des Moines. That's why a discount store such as Target would choose orange as its primary color - "there's the feeling that people will buy more on impulse when they're activated like that," she said.