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The Most Powerful Universal Language Part 1



Happiness | Sadness | Disgust | Anger | Fear | Surprise These are the six basic emotions that make us human beings. These emotions are inherent physiological and psychological feelings that are reaction based. For example, happiness is a reaction to something positive, anger is a reaction to something negative, fear to something that is unknown, sadness to loss, disgust to revolt, and surprise to the unexpected. Of course there are a myriad of other levels of emotions that fall below, between and above, but they are derived from these six basic feelings. If emotions are caused by reactions, what creates a reaction? First and foremost, seeing something. Before we even speak, we see. When you see someone for the first time, you decipher if they are a man or a woman by gender defining attributes, if they are fat, fit or skinny by physical attributes, what race they are by the color of their skin and ethnic attributes, what they may be like based on their hair style, fashion and accessories. Then you meet and your perceptions can be spot on or they can surprise you completely. I believe most people would like to think that they are a good judge of character when they see someone based on these visual cues. And you are probably right, most of the time. But you may actually be surprised how many times we may judge too soon because people are more complex and dimensional than just a physical outer-shell. So what does this have to do with the most powerful universal language? If you haven’t figured it out yet, sight is our most powerful sense. We’ve referenced this statistic here at Toniq many times, but I feel it’s important to share it again. We are a sight driven species. 80% of our experiences are filtered through our eyes. And with sight comes visual memory. We remember color first, shapes second, numbers third and words last. What this all comes down to is one very basic, yet most powerful universal language, COLOR.

Opposite page: Color is the most powerful universal language that holds the key to evoking reactions that trigger emotions. The colors associated with each of these words are actual universal color representations of each of these emotions.

Scientists and doctors, especially psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, social neuroscientists as well as anthropologists have been studying the power of color for decades. Why do they affect us the way they do? Well, we do know that...

80% of our experiences are filtered through our eyes and

70% of our sense

receptors are in our eyeballs.

We may never fully understand why but we do know how certain colors can affect how we feel.

Whether it’s choosing a nail polish or lipstick color, paint for a bedroom versus paint for a kitchen, color for a new car, color of a new logo for a new brand or color for a new product from an existing brand, we always use our head and our heart, our vision and our emotion.

What are some universal colors?

These colors are relevant to symbols, but these colors were chosen specifically for a reason. Globally, red is alerting, most commonly seen throughout the world on traffic signals and as the “Red Cross�. Yellow, while it creates emotional reactions of happiness, a bright yellow creates awareness and warning because it is disruptive. Green means moving forward, living in relation to nature. Blue is relative to the water on Earth and is the favorite color worldwide.

What immediate emotional reaction do you get from these?

fast, cool, American or mid-life crisis, show-off, small “you know what�

feminine, sexy, beautiful or trashy, attention-seeker

little girl, cute and sweet

little boy, tough but tender

wedding, pure, joy

death, dark, gothic, classic

What about the world of fast food?

Are you seeing the pattern here? Red and yellow prevail! The reason is‌the reaction these colors induce. Red grabs your attention and stimulates your mind, quickening the pulse and respiration. Yellow is exciting and happy, but also the most eye-catching. Subconsciously, these bright colors trigger hunger and induce excitement. They also encourage you to spend more, eat quickly and leave quickly; hence defining the goal of fast-food.

After looking at fast-food logos and what yellow and red does to your appetite, does this image surprise you? By the way, did you notice all of these companies are American? Yellow and red are some of the most widely used primary colors in Western (US) packaging.

Especially in package design, color is one of the most powerful attributes that can speak volumes. Unlike people, packages are limited in dimension and complexity. We are given one glance, one chance and 3 seconds to capture the consumer’s interest.


seconds seconds seconds

Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the global marketplace. Here is a color trend that we’ve noticed on shelves across the board, across the world. Is it here to stay?

BLACK Black has always carried a sense of mystery, sophistication and elite status. After all, black is derived from the absorption of all color and the absence of light. From the American Express Black card to blacktie events, the color black is fashionable, rich, and bold. Many mass consumer goods brands were afraid to use the color until now. It was associated with anger, death, darkness and what was perceived as depression. However, we are starting to see black as a bold statement color; creating a positive disruption in the marketplace. On the shelf, it is definitely grabbing the attention of the consumer. What kind of reaction is it causing? Well, so far it seems to be a welcome visual break to the usually consumer friendly, primary colored marketplace.

In the feminine care aisle, U by Kotex has stepped out of the traditional 1950’s feminine care pastel colors and has gone to black. Yes, black! It’s grown up, modern, playful with a bold attitude. Black is a disruptive color in this category. It catches your attention stops your eye amidst the light pinks and blues. First reaction is surprise then shock that a feminine protection brand would dare to be so bold. Then after some consideration, we think it’s pretty brilliant. It always takes one brand, one person, one idea, one bold move to be the leader.

And we can’t ignore Axe. How could you? They were one of the initiators of going bold with black in personal care. Axe was first introduced in France in 1983 but did not launch in Asia or the US until 2003. The global rollout took some time, but when Axe hit markets in the US, the “Axe Effect” didn’t take long to be in full-effect. It was the first time men could shop the supermarket or drugstore aisles and find something that they weren’t embarrassed to buy or have in their bathroom. The black packaging was

Even Tressemé has gone to a unified black look for the entre product range. It’s hard to miss it on the hair care aisle! This gives them a boosted, sleek appeal. The reaction? Sleek, sophisticated, class at mass, salon style at home.

Method Daily Granite Polish. It’s rare to see a company that produces non-toxic, planet-friendly goods use black in the household cleaning supply aisle. The black here is meant to mimic granite. Method has always been a step ahead in the packaging and design arena – redefining hand soap for households and business across the nation. The black here evokes power and efficacy. The brand name is strong enough to hold on to the non-toxic, natural aspect, so the bold, brave color can speak strength.

Gatorade G-Series, it’s black, it’s bold, it’s strong, it’s masculine. Enough said!

Haagen-Dazs is using black for some of their limited edition flavors. The black adds a sophisticated flare that says limited, special and exclusive. If you are going to indulge, why now indulge with something that is packaged to look rich and decadent?

In 2007, Doritos in the US launched Doritos X-13D. It was a mystery flavor and contest asking America to figure out and name the new flavor. The winner would become a “Doritos Flavor Master”. Why the black bag? Black was used to enhance the mystery and to create intrigue behind the top-secret flavor. The flavor was finally revealed as cheeseburger.

Then in 2008, Doritos was at it again. This time, it was called, Doritos “The Quest” and you had a chance of winning $100,000 if you could guess the flavor! The mysterious black bag had bright green lettering, a hint to the flavor – Mountain Dew. Yes, Mountain Dew flavored Doritos. I don’t believe the flavor survived on the market post contest, but it was an interesting attempt. But back to color, again black was used to create mystery and intrigue.

Then in 2011, we discovered that the mysterious black Doritos bag had reappeared, this time in Canada with a white counterpart. With our curiosity looming, we put our blog and social posting skills to work and the with the amazing reach of Facebook, a Canadian friend who we have yet to meet in person, sent us a few bags of the black and white flavors. “A” was onion rings and ketchup and “B” was buffalo wings and ranch. You were supposed to decide which flavor is better and write the end to their commercial for a chance to win $25,000 and 1% of all future sales. In the end, flavor “A” won the taste test and onion rings and ketchup is now on the market. Again, black packaging was used to create mystery and allure.

Now let’s head to Japan. Doritos uses the color black to create sophistication for their line of gourmet-flavored chips introduced in 2009/10. Black is sleek and stylish, a color that attracts true snack chip connoisseurs and gourmets. This package is tuna-mayonnaise flavor. (available in Japan only). And this one is wasabi-mayonnaise flavor. (available in Japan only)

In 2010, Frito-Lay in Japan extended this gourmet line to Cheetos. Again, black bags create a sophisticated package for sophisticated palates. For those of you that are curious, this flavor is Yuzukoshō, grilled pork with yuzu and chili. (available in Japan only)

Xylish is a Japanese gum that is labeled as “Hyper Cool”. The package is black and the gum is black. You get what you expect – a super intense, “hyper-cool” gum that only the brave may try and the serious spicy, minty, cool connoisseur will enjoy. Here black is used to evoke strength, power, extreme, and boldness as well as sleek and sophisticated style. (available exclusively in Japan, but can be found at Japanese specialty stores worldwide)

And in Europe, even healthcare has gone to black for sleek sophistication. This is Levitra (manufactured by Bayer), yes, the erectile dysfunction pill. Tim Clarke, CEO of Burgopak Healthcare & Technology says: “The innovative packaging design adds significant value to the brand as it’s slick, unique, and appealing to consumers…In a highly competitive market, it offers differentiation...” This new packaging launched in November/December 2010 in France, Chile, Austria and Hungary and will be rolled out to other countries in 2011. Gone are the days of orange or white prescription pill bottles. This black says masculine and sleek yet fun, functional and portable.

In Australia, Schweppes has gone to black in 2010. Marketed as “classic mixers”, what other color best represents “classic” than black.

As you can see, black is universal. It is sends a psychological message to consumers. Black is mystery, sophistication, exclusivity, and boldness. We believe the allure of the color black will continue around the world across product categories. You may even start seeing black in unexpected product categories used in unexpected ways.




Stay tuned for part 2 of the series,

The Most Powerful Universal Language, where we will explore new color trends happening in the world around us.

What is your reaction? We would love to hear what you think about color, it’s affects on our emotions and the recent trend of black in the mass consumer marketplace. Please visit us at Friend Toniq on Facebook Reach us on twitter @brandeffervesce We want to hear from you!

Toniq is a brand strategy agency dedicated to creating Brand Efferevescence™. We bring life, energy, and dimension to brands by blending traditional marketing with anthropology, sociology, the psychology of symbolism, cultural and visual trends, plus new forms of consumer research to create brands that thrive in an increasingly complex marketplace. To learn more about Toniq, please email us at © Toniq LLC 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The Most Powerful Language  
The Most Powerful Language  

This is part one of a report on the most important universal language in the world, color. In this first part, we explore the significance o...