A Mid-Year DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Feature: Mobility, Money, Mood, Marketing Sway Car Color Choices

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Social and Behavioral Sciences Impact Selections in Car Colors

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It makes sense that the way people feel and the societal factors that shape those feelings could be significant in their color choices.

Like fashion designers, automobile manufacturers gather all the quantitative or "hard" data they can to formulate their predictions of colors that will appeal to consumers. But, ultimately, they also have to rely on certain "soft" considerations - such as psychology and cultural influences - that can also have an effect on color preference, especially in turbulent economic times.

DuPont experts have tracked and reported on consumers' automotive color preferences for 56 years through the annual DuPont Global Automotive Color Popularity Report, issued each December. The report includes color preferences for all regions and certain countries around the world. Findings are based on automakers' data concerning vehicle production, auto registrations, paint sales data and proprietary DuPont analytical methods. DuPont is the world's leading manufacturer of coatings for new cars as well as for the collision repair industry. The company supplies coatings to virtually every major automaker in the world.

Each year, DuPont designers develop customized color shows for automakers presenting palettes of colors they believe will attract consumers. Due to uncertainties posed by the global recession, though, the DuPont color design staff recently consulted two experts for their opinions on potential psychological and anthropological factors that might skew color trends.

"We don't plan to change the way we compile and report our annual automotive color data, but given the current turbulent nature of global society, we decided to take a closer look at some of the qualitative influences that might affect consumers' color preferences," said Nancy Lockhart, DuPont color marketing manager. "It makes sense that the way people feel and the societal factors that shape those feelings could be significant in their color choices."

Culture and Society Impact Color Choices

DuPont contacted Dr. Peter Weil, an associate professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Delaware, for insights into cultural and societal influences on color preference. Weil has spent decades doing cross-cultural studies of art in a variety of geographies, especially Africa.

"We have only known for the last 35 years that all humans biologically process color the same way," said Weil, who focuses on a sub-specialty of cultural anthropology known as "aesthetic anthropology." Cultural anthropology is the study of living peoples, their beliefs, practices, values, ideas, technologies, economies and more. "In many traditional, non-industrial societies, people have a culturally learned awareness of only four basic color ranges: red, blue, black and white. But in industrial societies, we are conditioned to perceive a wide range of colors because of globalization, marketing and other factors."

The range of colors of which people are aware is important, according to Weil, because all societies assign certain values to colors.

"Some colors are indicators that a person is doing well," said Weil. "Silver, for example, has been associated with high status, especially during the post-Sept. 11 economic boom. The popularity of silver began to wane, though, about two years ago."

Silver ranked as the top color in the DuPont Global Automotive Color Popularity Reports from 2000 to 2006 - an astounding seven-year reign. The switch to white as the top color coincides with Weil's -- and many economists' - estimates of the beginning of the current economic recession.

"White is associated with transition," said Weil. "But it's interesting that much of the switch was to whites with special effects, such as pearl." So even though people shifted to white, he continued, it was to a more luxurious and durable looking white rather than the plain white that they remembered as "chalking" easily and appearing bland and institutional.

Are Certain Colors Associated With Specific Societies Or Cultures?

Weil said traditional color palettes are usually the result of dyes that are readily available to early societies. However, globalization has affected those preferences, as people travel and bring home clothing and gifts produced in unfamiliar colors. People will put tradition aside if exposed to new colors they like, he said.
Color choice can also be associated with security or risk. In Western Europe, black and grey often appear on expensive cars, signifying security, wealth and risk aversion. However, young people are more likely to take risks by specifying bright, attention-getting colors for their smaller, less expensive cars.

The Psychology of Color

For insights into the psychology behind color, DuPont consulted Dr. Kayta Gajdos, a Pennsylvania psychologist in private practice who uses color as a tool in psychotherapy. Gajdos is a member of the Pennsylvania and Delaware Psychological Associations. Her column on psychological issues, Mind Matters, appears twice monthly on http://www.chaddsfordlive.com and on her website, http://www.drgajdos.com .

"While color choice can indicate mood, specific colors can also evoke certain feelings," said Gajdos. "Colors can be exciting and they can be calming."

"People need more color in their lives to make them feel better, especially in bad times," said Gajdos.

She related an experience that emphasized the use of calming colors. While at an airport recently, she noted the deep blue shirts worn by all of the federal Transportation Security Agency officers manning passenger inspection lines.

"Blue is the color of calm and communication," she said. "So I thought it was a perfectly appropriate choice for people in positions of authority interacting with nervous travelers."

Do current events, such as the economic downturn, tend to mute or subdue color preferences?

Gajdos said that while people have certain personality-linked color preferences developed over time, their choices can shift depending on mood and events. Age, she said, is probably less of an influence on color preference than personality.

Gender, however, is not necessarily an influence.

"There's no way to generalize based on gender," said Gajdos. "I know someone who won't buy a car unless she likes the shape of the tail lights, regardless of color!"

An individual's color preference may also be associated with left-brain or right-brain dominance. People with a left-brain orientation tend to be logical, analytical and objective in their decision-making, said the psychologist. A person with left-brain tendencies might be more influenced by practical considerations than aesthetics. For example, a left-brain dominant person might lean toward colors that will not show dirt and would be more visible in the dark.

Right-brain thinkers, however, are more intuitive and random in their deliberations. They are apt to view "wholes" rather than "parts" and are more influenced by subjective factors than logic. People with right-brain dominance might be more spontaneous in their color choices.

What Do Colors Really Mean?

According to Gajdos, predicting color preference is complicated by the plethora of colors available. But despite the wide range of shades and effects offered by automakers, experts such as Texas psychologist Dr. Steven R. Vazquez, originator of a technique called Emotional Transformation Therapy, agree on certain general color associations:

  • Red or light violet - passion
  • Deep red - security
  • Blue - communication
  • Blue-green - wholeness
  • Indigo - understanding
  • Yellow-green - empowered/assertive
  • Orange - self-esteem/confidence

DuPont Supports the Global Automotive Industry

In addition to its color and coatings expertise, DuPont supports the global automotive and transportation industries with a vast array of products including elastomers for hoses, belts and other parts, engineering plastics for molded components, electronics products for microcircuits and flexible and printed circuits, and a variety of polyester films. The DuPont offering also includes glass-laminating products, fuel cell components, refrigerants and thermal protection materials. DuPont is working actively to introduce sustainable, bio-based materials such as fabrics and engineering polymers, and fuels that reduce dependence on petroleum resources, reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency.

DuPont is a science-based products and services company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.

Hi-resolution B-roll of Dr. Gajdos and Dr. Weil is available. Contact Rick Stratiman, DuPont Public Affairs, for access.

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