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The Most Popular Color in the World Just Got A Bit Trendier

Consumer psychologists explore the power of the color blue.

Alex Borland/Public Domain Pictures
Source: Alex Borland/Public Domain Pictures

Blue. It’s been called the “lustre of the soul.” It is a color associated with feelings of tranquility, reliability, productivity, and sometimes melancholy. More definitively, it just so happens to be the most popular color in the world, especially among men.

It’s also the flagship color of some of the popular brands in the world—think Facebook, IBM, GE, Walmart, Ford, BMW, Visa, and Twitter, just to name a few—and has long been a topic of marketing intrigue. For example, it was reported that Google pilot tested over 40 shades of blue to see which resulted in the highest click-through rates.

But new research appearing in this month’s issue of Psychology and Marketing adds even more mystique to the planet’s most prominent wavelength.

Professor Gianluigi Guido, of the University of Salento, and his colleagues examined how blue light influences shopping preferences in mobile shopping environments. And what they found is fascinating: A specific wavelength of blue light, referred to as “actinic blue,” increased the likelihood that shoppers would make impulse purchases.

Here’s how they arrived at this striking conclusion.

Two hundred and twenty students at a university in Italy were asked to make a series of purchase decisions on a mobile device. Half of these students, randomly selected, were exposed to blue ambient light; the other half were exposed to white light. The students were then asked to indicate their likelihood of purchasing 10 products, five of which were “hedonic” products (Intimissimi lingerie, Nutella chocolate cream, Ray-ban sunglasses, Swatch watches, and Zara clothing). The other five were “utilitarian” products (Dash detergent, Johnson’s baby shampoo, Mentadent toothpaste, Scottex toilet paper, and Sharp calculators).

Remarkably, they found that when students made their decisions in the presence of blue ambient light, purchase intentions were higher for the hedonic (impulse) products than for the utilitarian products. However, when decisions were made in the context of white ambient light, the purchase intentions did not differ between the product groups.

Furthermore, this finding held true even when the light source wasn’t external but came from the digital device itself. Manipulating whether the mobile display was set to “actinic blue” versus warm white, the researchers showed a similar preference toward the hedonic products in the presence of blue mobile light.

What does this all mean for retailers—virtual and brick and mortar, alike? For one, it suggests that color matters when it comes to optimizing shopping environments. Beyond the current study, consumer research has found that blue lighting increases browsing times in retail shops, influences the perceived quality of wines in restaurants, and can contribute to the illusion of faster download times in virtual settings.

But, more than that, Professor Guido’s work suggests that blue may be top dog especially when it comes to high-end, luxury shopping.

“The use of blue light in ambient and mobile displays could increase consumers’ level of arousal when watching web promotions, using an app, or sending viral messages – at least when hedonic products or services are involved,” says Dr. Guido.

Dr. Guido adds that, “Managers could also implement blue light as part of website customization, allowing users to alter the online atmosphere with a click.”

But what is it, specifically, about the color blue that makes it so amenable to retail? While this is still very much an open question, Dr. Guido suggests that blue light is able to stimulate specific internal states, such as relaxation, and that these states and emotions can stimulate purchasing behavior.

While the exact mechanisms aren’t yet well understood, smart retailers should nevertheless heed the message: forget green, go blue.

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Gorn, G. J., Chattopadhyay, A., Sengupta, J., & Tripathi, S. (2004). Waiting for the web: How screen color affects time perception. Journal of Marketing Research, 41, 215–225.

Guido, G., Piper, L., Prete, M. I., Mileti, A., & Trisolini, C. M. (2017). Effects of Blue Lighting in Ambient and Mobile Settings on the Intention to Buy Hedonic and Utilitarian Products. Psychology & Marketing, 34(2), 215-226.

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Oberfeld, D., Hecht, H., Allendorf, U., & Wickelmaier F. (2009). Ambient lighting modifies the flavor of wine. Journal of Sensory Studies, 24, 797–832.

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