Colours and images on packaging help identify a product line extension

By our News Team | 2023

New Australian study find that images, rather than colours, are much better at signalling product variety.

New flavours, scents, or formulations – we see them every day on the supermarket shelf. Despite line extensions being among the most common strategies to build a brand, they’re expensive, risky, and come with an average failure rate of about 40%.


Now, new research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia has explored how colours and images can help identify a line extension.

Line Extensions

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

It finds that images, rather than colours, are much better at signalling product variety.


Published in the International Journal of Market Research, this is claimed to be the first study to audit industry practice on a large scale, and appraise this practice with empirical, consumer-based research.


Analysing the perceptions of 1,853 customers to 576 products in the packaged goods market, the study showed that only 56% of product varieties had a colour that was commonly expected by category buyers.


It’s an interesting finding, given that colours are so commonly used by marketers to indicate a new variant, says Senior Marketing Scientist at the university, Dr Ella Ward.


“Colours are regularly used to identify brands – think purple for Cadbury or red for Coca-Cola. These are highly valuable brand assets that should be protected,” Ward observes.


“In our study we found that competing brands use similar colours to signal 84% of the variant types analysed, but consumers associated a colour with only 56% of those types.”


Disconnect between colours used in practice


Concerningly, adds Ward, there was a disconnect between colours used in practice, and those expected by customers. These aligned only 16% of the time.


“When we assessed images, however, we found that 23% more consumers were able to link these to product variants,” she states.


The research draws upon empirical research on how consumers identify and recall information about brands in their memories.


According to Ward, the findings suggest that images are a more explicit signal of product variety than colour.


“Colour is uni-dimensional and ambiguous; its meaning is highly dependent on the pre-existing memory associations held by each individual. Images, on the other hand, are rich in neural information which makes them more readily processed in memory,” Ward says.


“As images are less ambiguous, they have more power to convey variety than colours. Yet, for marketers, it’s common practice to signal a new line extension by mimicking the colours used by competitors. 


“We recommend using images where possible and protecting the master brand by keeping variant colours to 25% of the pack face or less.


“Consider Cadbury’s chocolate: the colour purple is always emphasised, but flavour variations are signalled by a coloured banner and an image, such as sultanas and nuts for a ‘Fruit & Nut’ extension. This ensures the master brand colour remains prominent, and the portfolio looks visually cohesive.”

You can read more about the research here.

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
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