Blue wine: how colour can make or break a business

* 4 min read

Red, white, then orange, now blue. Gik’s new electric blue wine is certainly causing a stir, going against all our preconceptions about the colour wine should be and how we use colour to pre-determine the complexities of flavour.

So why make a wine blue? On Gik’s website we are being asked to open our minds and “ignore all the preconceptions and standards” associated with what we know. Intriguing, controversial – will a “glass of blue” be something we all get used to? I’m not so sure.

Colour is a tremendously powerful marketing tool.  Indeed, it’s the first sensory contact brands have with a customer, with research showing that up to 90% of a consumer’s decision to purchase is influenced by colour alone. The use of colour through actual product or through packaging holds unrivalled emotional and psychological currency and can make or break a new product.

However, our relationship with colour is far from scientific. We are incredibly emotive, responding to “mental shortcuts, guesses and semantic influence”.  Emotional reactions are influenced by culture, age, gender, upbringing and personal experiences – from climate to “linguistic relativity” – where there are specific languages in Zimbabwe and Liberia for example, that have no words to distinguish red from orange. Pepsi failed to recognise the importance of cultural contexts when it changed its coolers from the brand’s trademark regal blue to a lighter ice blue; the colour of mourning in southeast Asia. As a result the brand lost its dominant share of the beverage market across this region.

Cultural context apart, as consumers we associate certain colours, or even shades of colour with certain brands: CocaCola is red, Easy jet is orange, Cadbury’s is famously purple, Starbucks is green; Verve Cliquot’s ‘golden’ yellow cuts through a sea of green, gold and cream and Apple’s love of clean, simple design is communicated with the use of white. Successfully owning a colour is a big deal and helps engage us with a brand’s personality. It influences how we feel on an emotional level, but on a practical level changes how we view it based on market standout.

Colour management with consistency of tone and shade across a myriad of communication channels is vital to immediate brand recognition, with research showing that colour increases comprehension by as much as 73%. Just think of a walk down the washing powder aisle: there are hundreds of cartons, refill pouches, boxes of powder, bottles with shrink-wrap and boxes on every shelf. Colour on packaging is a vital part of how one brand stands out from another. Some brands have changed their colour and then seen sales migrate to a competitor that appropriated its original colour. And if that iconic green looks different to shoppers because it was printed differently, they might not buy it at all. Thankfully, digital technology like PantoneLIVE and sharing via the cloud has made colour management much simpler.

Given that shopping is about the emotional rather than the rational, it’s no wonder that brands use colour to generate an unconscious and emotional response. Beyond the obvious (red=love, blue=calm etc.) the FMCG/retail sector has developed a set of unwritten colour guidelines to help shoppers navigate. Red, for example is used on sale signs to grab attention and cue ‘action’. Green represents freshness and is used on cartons and tubs that hold fruit and veg; whereas salted butter and full-fat milk have become indelibly associated with blue as an indicator of variant.

‘Blue’ particularly is a bit of a wild card in the world of food and drink. Interestingly, it’s one of the most popular colours, but it is one of the least appetising. Because it rarely occurs naturally in food aside from blueberries and some plums, our brain associates it with signals toxicity. Traditionally, in FMCG darker blue was always the colour of bleach, so a no go area. But, Harvey’s iconic “Bristol blue” glass and Ty Nant’s stand-out blue mineral water bottle have changed things.

Playing with product colours though, is a big risk. Heinz famously shifted a staggering 25 million units when it launched its EZ squirt ketchup in an eye-boggling array of colours, but its success was short-lived and kids soon tired of the novelty value. The technicolour ‘food fad’ ketchup was discontinued in 2006.

It seems that we need more than an emotional reason to believe that ketchup should be pink, purple or blue that goes beyond the novelty factor to drive long-term interest. And it may be the same with Gik’s blue wine. I’ve just asked a couple of friends about it. “Will it make my teeth go blue?” was one comment.

None of us could guess how a blue wine would taste and maybe that’s the problem.  Along with the “Blue-wine stains”. But one thing’s for sure – it’s got us all talking – and probably interested enough to have a taste.