Consumer Colour Preferences

How does your personal colour preference affect the colour of the things that you buy?
It is well known that people prefer some colours more than others. Personally, I much prefer red to blue. But I am probably in a minority. Many studies have shown that blue is the most popular hue with yellow being one of the least popular hues. But this is when we think of colour in an abstract sense. But what about when colour is applied to a product: a pair of trousers, a toothbrush, a fidget spinner? Well, my favourite colour is red but I have never owned a pair of red trousers. I tend to buy buy blue or brown trousers even though I don’t really like the colour blue in the abstract sense. But are there products where, if we were presented with a choice in colour, we would tend to buy the colour product that matches our abstract colour preference? This is the question that I set out to answer answer two years ago with my colleague Meong Jin Shin. We carried out an experiment over the internet where we presented people with a choice of products in different colours and asked which they would buy given the choice. They were presented with images a little like the one below:

After we asked participants which product they would buy for a number of different products we then asked them what their favourite colour was in an abstract sense (we showed a number of colour patches on the screen and asked the to click on the one they liked best). Our hypothesis was that for some products participants would tend to select products that closely matched their most preferred abstract colours but that for some other products we would not find this.

This is exactly what we found. For some products, such as bodywash, we found that people tended to prefer a particular colour for the product (in this case, blue). The figure below shows the results for bodywash. The rows represent the colour of the products and the size of the circle in each row represents the proportion of people who generally preferred either red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple that selected that product colour. As you can see below the majority of people chose a blue bodywash no matter what their abstract colour preference was.

However, for the toothbrush product a very different picture emerged. As shown below, people who liked red generally tended to select a red toothbrush and people who preferred purple tended to select a purple toothbrush. For example, 41% of people who preferred green selected a green toothbrush.


So sometimes people’s personal colour preference could be used to predict which colour product they would choose to buy given the choice (and sometimes it couldn’t be). How could this be useful? Well, if we could predict which products where this is true then it would suggest that a multi-colour marketing strategy could be appropriate. Also, imagine you are in a supermarket and you are presented with an offer – 50% off toothbrushes today – and alongside this you see a red toothbrush. If red was your favourite colour then there might just be a little more chance you would accept the proposition. If a supermarket could predict a consumer’s personal colour preference …. [more of this in a later post].

This paper was published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Colour Association. You can read the full paper for free here.

Westland S & Shin M-J, 2015. The Relationship between Consumer Colour Preferences and Product-Colour Choices, Journal of the International Colour Association14, 47-56.

2 thoughts on “Consumer Colour Preferences

  1. Is there a correlation between the choice of colour and the choice of brand or, indeed, the perceived association between colour, product and even scent (just to complicate matters!)? For example, the choice of blue for body wash being associated with ‘fresh’ or ‘ozone’ befitting the lifestyle pushed by advertising? Whereas toothbrushes are associated with brands of toothpaste, therefore the trust is placed in the product (toothpaste) rather than the subsidiary item (the toothbrush) and brand loyalty remains. Therefore the consumer has the freedom to choose their colour of preference…just a thought!

    1. It’s funny you should say this because that is exactly what we were thinking. We have another paper about to appear in Color Research and Application that addresses this sort of question.

      One of the things we argue is that in some cases, such as the body wash example, there are really good reasons for consumers to select some colours (e.g. blue) over others. In other circumstances the consumer is ‘free’ to choose whatever colour they like (which is where personal colour preferences come into play. We will show that this happens with a product like a toothbrush because there is no reason to choose one colour over another (a consumer would not reasonably think, for example, that one colour toothbrush is more effective than another). However, your idea that the power of brands may also free the consumer in this way is interesting.

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