Why Pepsi went BLUE!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Give me a red, and a blue, and yes a green, maybe a white too, and let’s not leave black behind! Because the rules of competition are very clear; and there’s no space for shades of grey... Presenting, a thoroughly ‘coloured’ perspective on market leadership!

Colour my world

Whenever you think of a colour, do you feel something?
Or whenever you feel something, do you think of a colour?
Confused? Let’s put it this way... When you think of ‘purity’, which colour do you think of? Probably white.
When you think of ‘passion’, which colour do you think of? Probably red.
When you think of ‘peace’, which colour do you think of? Probably white.
When you think of ‘cool’, which colour do you think of? Probably blue.
When you think of ‘freshness’, which colour do you think of? Probably green.
Not just feelings, our association with colours has extended to products too.Try this...
If it has to be a detergent, which colour should it be? Blue!
If it has to be a lemon soap, which colour should it be? Green!
If it has to be a beauty soap, which colour should it be? White or Pink!
If it has to be an environment-friendly product, which colour should it be? Green!
It doesn’t stop here. Think of this...


Opposite sides of the spectrum

What colour do you associate Coke with? Red?

Yes! It’s the red colour that makes it distinct and gives it a unique identity, apart from other factors like the brand name, flavour, shape of the bottle etc. After all, if Coke is evaluated as a brand, the colour red would be contributing 40% to its equity.

A question that comes to mind is – if Coke is red, then what colour is Pepsi associated with? Blue??

Pepsi tried to go blue. It wanted to associate itself with the colour blue. It was ready to shell out a neat $500 million (Rs.17.50 billion, approximately) to go blue. For 40 years, it has used the colour mix of red and white and blue so as to give it a distinct colour identity. Pepsi went to the extent of painting blue a concord supersonic jet to carry the colour message to bottlers around the world. This colour differentiation would help in giving Pepsi an identity distinct and different from Coke. To increase the association of the colour with the brand, Pepsi highlighted the colour blue in all its advertisements. What I’m trying to say here is that colours compete as much as brand names do. Close your mind’s eye and try to think of Coke – you will see a splash of red. Then think of Pepsi and you will, probably now, think of blue. If this exercise had been done a few years back, you would have been unable to decide whether Pepsi was blue or red.

What is it that made Pepsi turn electric blue? Is it then true that Pepsi’s erstwhile red and blue combination served just as a reminder of Coke? To cut a long story short, the bottom line is, when it comes to colours, be opposites if you are competitors. Many brands, consciously or otherwise, have followed this.

• Perk is blue while its competitor, Kit-Kat, is red.
• Kodak is yellow while the counterpart, Fuji, is green.
• Polo is green and blue while Minto is now red and yellow.
• Hertz picked up yellow, so Avis picked red.

There’s a powerful logic in selecting a colour that is opposite to that of your major competitor. It is more important to create a separate brand identity with the help of colour than it is to use the right symbolic colour. To put it simply, consider this example. For an eco-friendly product the right symbolic colour is probably green, but if your competitor has chosen it first, it’s best to avoid green and choose a contrasting colour. This way, you shall be saved the pain of being a ‘me-too’ product, and would have a distinct identity. Remember, Pepsi learnt it the hard way... after 40 years!

What is brand recall? It’s finally your ability to stand out in a crowd of similar sounding, similar looking products. To be successful, a brand needs to stick out like a sore thumb in the market place. This immediately makes it more noticeable and memorable. Think of the corporate world where everybody is dressed in blue or black suits. An orange suit would immediately be noticed and remembered. Similarly, in the market place, a colour strikingly different from your competitor’s will make you stick out, get you noticed and remembered. With the help of advertising, you could strengthen this association of the desired colour with your brand and help it build strong colour equity.

If you are the first to enter the market, you have a choice of which colour to associate your brand with. When you are second, it has to be a colour strikingly different from your competitor’s. When you have the freedom to choose, a colour should be chosen with great care. Colours influence us in a variety of ways. They seem to have a direct physical impact on us. Donald Kaufman conducted experiments to show how colour influenced our daily lives. He found that when we are placed in a room with red light and all of a sudden the light is switched to blue, instantaneously, our body temperature falls.

Moody blues and the flashing reds

Colours don’t just have a physical impact; they also have a deep psychological impact. Our association with colours is natural. The reds and yellows will always be associated with warmth and passion. The coolness of the blues and greens will also remain. Moreover, due to our desire for warmth, we would always prefer warm colours, red being the quintessential colour of warmth.

Colours conjour up certain images. The reds and yellows give the image of youth, as they are considered to be young colours. Black is a very interesting colour. It can draw up numerous images almost at the same time! It can be perceived as sinister, sensual, mysterious or even inauspicious. The way you use it in your advertisement makes all the difference. Purple is a colour symbolising luxury.

Things become more interesting when we combine colours. It is said, putting two colours together causes them to vibrate! Thus, it produces a dramatically different effect. Think of a restaurant done up in shades of red and burgundy. It would have a very rich and sophisticated ambience about it. The colours would decide what kind of people, what kind of menu, what pricing this kind of place would have and hence, what kind of advertising would go with it. Now let’s combine red with yellow and see how dramatically different the effect would be. The same place would have a different ambience, a different menu, different pricing and a different clientele. It would be a funky place, average priced for the youth, probably serving fast food! It was the same red both times, but different combinations produced different effects.

An advertisement, which just tells us what the product is all about and what it does, is not a good ad. Believe it or not, but most of the time, when we buy things, it’s on the basis of emotions. As an advertising man, one must always remember ‘people don’t buy things or products or even brands – they buy solutions’. Those are our emotions that help us in finding these solutions. When an advertisement is created, it should evoke the right kind of emotions. Using the right colours or the right colour combinations holds the key to trigger the right emotional response... after all, as I asked in the beginning, when you think of a colour, do you feel something?