Discovering the Best Colors for our Customers:

By Dee Schlotter, National Color Marketing Manager, PPG PITTSBURGH PAINTS and PPG VOICE OF COLOR Brand | May 6, 2014

PPG Global Color Trending Service

What makes someone prefer one color over another?  And, how does a company determine what those specific colors should be for their products?  That is part of almost every product manufacturer’s job these days.  Because color sells, and the right colors sell more.  Mass production has turned to mass customization for nearly everything we buy these days, and customers expect “their” color to be available and are disappointed when it’s not.  So, how do you promote the right shade of blue or green that your customers will love?

Each year, the media calls and asks: what are the new colors this year?”  Our response is always, well, there’s really no “new” colors; the colors have always been there but it’s which ones that have bubbled to the top in popularity.  Colors become popular and resonate with customers because of what is happening in society at that particular time, demographic profiles that tug on customers’ memories and generational events, and geographical influences.  I tend to use the example of right after 9/11 when the colors that bubbled to the top were soft pinks and chocolate browns.  The soft pinks are compassionate colors and the chocolate browns are grounding, cocooning colors.  These were colors influenced by societal events.  At that time, there were not many bright colors in fashion, home décor, or consumer electronics.  That wouldn’t come for a couple years after the recession brought us many shades of gray throughout every market.  Societal events hugely impact the colors that we feel comfortable selecting and buying.
Demographic profiles also influence our color choice.  Boomers right now are preferring complex neutrals – not a standard beige anymore.  They love the blue-grays and the aquas with more blue that are restful, spa-like.  Whereas Generation Y prefer the discordant colors – colors that don’t naturally go together, like an orange-red with a dark blue. 

The 2014 colors have palettes that represent where we see the society vibe – a need to take pause, slow down as well as to refresh.  Refreshed thinking is driving customers to unwind from their stressful lives and seek colors that emphasize enlightenment.  Incorporating colors that illustrate hopefulness in society, such as Turning Oakleaf (ATC-38), can transfuse a room with brilliant energy. Turning Oakleaf is one of 25 featured colors presented in Pause & Refresh, a collection of five new color palettes showcasing this year’s color trends for THE VOICE OF COLOR program.

Customers have moved away from the muted hues influenced by economic factors in recent years. Turning Oakleaf, which is soft enough to be a neutral but bright enough to generate a sunshine-like energy, represents a trend toward warmth in harmonious living, deep appreciation for the surrounding natural elements and a thorough understanding of enlightened philosophies.  We are experiencing the popularity of the soft yellow shade across all markets, such as home décor, automotive and electronics, making it a clear Color of the Year selection.

In residential, with today’s 24-hour connectivity and on-the-go lifestyle becoming more and more common, customers are transforming their living spaces into comfortable retreats with colors that represent how individuals perceive their ideal form of relaxation.  For some, the back-to-basics feel that captures an earthy, primitive and organic reference is the natural influence needed to pause from today’s technologically-driven lifestyle. For others, bold, dynamic colors mixed with artisan patterns, shapes and prints generate an atmosphere that is lively, vibrant and creatively energizing.

The Refresh palettes are all about starting over – removing anything dark, heavy or cluttering and beginning with a clean slate.  It’s about lightness, optimism and freshness in your surroundings.  The colors are a refreshing mix of subtle neutrals and delicate pastels.  Another palette that is all about refreshing your surroundings is Mosaic which is brighter, expressive colors with a mix of patterns and prints to create a dynamic color that is absolutely noticed.  We see Gen Y embracing this palette. 

The “Pause” color palettes include a New Spirit which is a story of ease, nature, thoughtfulness and respect for our earth.  It includes primitive patterns and raw colors that draw on sun-faded hues, landscapes and natural environments.  Exposed brick paired with natural wood and a soft, creamy yellow on the wall complete this picture of the perfect setting for this customer.  At the end of 2012, people around the globe waited with baited breath to see if the Mayan prophecies would come true and end the earth as we know it.  As those who studied the Mayan history more deeply predicted, our world would not end.  The prophecy actually represented a new era of awareness and heightened collective consciousness.  The New Spirit story is all about stopping to reflect what’s behind us, what’s important, what to let go of and what to hold dear. The colors are from the earth and find a connection to us through our basic knowledge of the natural elements that surround us.  We see this in restaurants with greenhouse seating, offices and public buildings that bring the outside in, and showcasing vertical landscaping on the outside of buildings. 

Magnifigence color trend for 2014 is a theme born out of play on two words:  magnificent and elegance. As consumers ease away from the recession years even more, products and space that play up embellishment and glamor begin to regain interest – especially in hotels and retail spaces.  We see a drama and vibrance that breathes new life into heritage-heavy styling.  Jewel tones that emphasize opulence and energy with dramatic darks that speak to the flare and savvy vitality of a consumer group who respects the hallmarks of history but doesn’t feel defined by it.

Our final color story for 2014 is Theorem which is all about colors and designs that create silence and space, and for a consumer that values order, organization, clean lines and clutter free spaces.  We know how our world creates this state of permanent agitation – always being interrupted by an email, phone call, text alert or Facebook update.  There is a lot of clutter and this story is all about creating the space and minimal design and colors that allow for this feeling that a deep breath brings.  Excess details are discouraged in favor of simplicity.  Calculation and precision are essential to this consumer, born out of a craving for less fussed living, ease of use and a perceived sense of control.  The colors are middle-toned grays, deep, ocean blues, softened oranges.
Every year, we uncover these trends and their stories through an annual workshop at PPG with our global color stylists from eight countries in all of our business units – automotive, aerospace, architectural, consumer products.  What is great about these forums is that the give and take of our customer’s expertise blended with ours gives us this unique opportunity to discuss trends in a meaningful way.  We read the color and runway forecast reports and the research, filter the societal influences and then our own personal experience with our customers in each of their markets to develop a trends book and one-hour presentation that encompasses all business units and geographies.  This book not only showcases the global color trends, but tells you the why behind these colors and stories.  It is that message that becomes a powerful message to our customers on why these colors will impact purchase decisions and designs for everything from hotels to tablets to cars to kitchens.  With this base of color expertise and knowledge, we are also able to complete specialized reports for our customers.  Just a year ago, we were asked to do a color research presentation for the best colors to use in a correctional facility and a sports arena.  Two different palettes, but the core trends program and experts that we have in place allow us to give our customers more than just product.   We always talk about selling color as a product - treat it like a product - because it really is one that can differentiate. 

I am lucky enough to be working for PPG who is in a unique position as a color leader in multiple markets to observe and translate emerging global color trends – from consumer goods to automotive color, from residential to commercial to industrial design to offer our customer base the best color offerings for all their products.
If you would like a copy of the PPG global trends books, please email me at:  Schlotter@ppg.com.