PPP: The Colors of Success

November 29, 2002
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Consumers will continue to be drawn toward colors that reflect the natural environment.

Photo courtesy of Color Marketing Group, Alexandria, Va.
For most artists and small studio potters, making pottery is an expression of their own interests and inspirations. If an artist feels inspired by electric pink, she can glaze her next masterpiece in that color with reckless abandon, knowing that in the end, she will be satisfied. But for production potters who have chosen to make a living by selling their products to consumers, it is the needs and desires of those consumers that determine the color and style of the next season’s product line. Introducing a set of bright yellow dinnerware when consumers are looking for dark, earthy tones can quickly spell disaster for any company that sells on volume. But consumers are notoriously fickle. How can you tell whether the smoky blue canisters you introduced so successfully at this year’s art show will still be a hit next summer? And what, if any, special effects will be sure to capture the attention of retailers this spring? How can you make sure you have the right glazes and decorations on hand to increase your profits and keep your products moving off store shelves well into next year? Predicting what colors will sell the best even just several months in advance can often feel like a guessing game. However, according to Jay de Sibour, president of the non-profit Color Marketing Group based in Alexandria, Va., and sales and marketing manager for Material ConneXion in New York, N.Y., understanding color trends is actually a scientific endeavor that simply involves a little research and good observation skills. “Color is certainly a way that we express our feelings, but it is also very much influenced by what is going on around us—things like the environment, the economy, the stability of the world, globalization, ethnicity, changing population demographics. All of these influences have an impact on color,” de Sibour explains.

Emotional Influences

While emotional influences can be difficult to predict, the effects of a local or national tragedy, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, can have far-reaching effects on color. “After 9/11, you immediately saw a lot of red, white and blue,” says de Sibour. “In the longer term, the color palette became more muted—a little softer and not quite as vibrant. That was a very upsetting event, and typically in those kinds of situations, people tend look for things that give them a sense of comfort, and things that remind them of better times. Those kinds of events—especially if they are as global as the terrorist attacks were—will cause the color palette to be a little bit more muted, subtle and sophisticated.”

Economic Trends

The economy also plays a big role in color selection. “When economic times are good, people tend to be a little bit more daring about their purchases,” says de Sibour. “They’ll go with brighter colors because they say to themselves, ‘If I don’t like it next year, I’ll just go by another one.’ But when the economy is in trouble, almost every decision is looked at to a certain degree as more of a value consideration. People don’t want to take a chance on a color that might just be a passing fad, so you end up seeing a lot more of the neutrals and basic colors.” However, these colors don’t always carry over into pottery. In fact, potters who sell vases and other lower-cost decorative items might actually experience a greater demand for brighter-colored items in a difficult economic environment. “Consumers will tend to be cautious with their larger, more expensive purchases while using smaller items—such as new pottery or flower vases—to express themselves. They can be more daring there without having to make a big investment,” de Sibour explains.

Global Events

In addition to economic influences, the possibility of war with Iraq and other world events are weighing heavily on the minds of many consumers. “Six to 10 months after the terrorist attacks, colors were beginning to brighten up and become a little cleaner. But the world situation doesn’t seem to be much different. We’re still involved with Afghanistan, we now are thinking about Iraq, we still have the conflict between Palestine and Israel, and there’s a lot of unrest,” de Sibour says. “As a result, some of the subtleties that were entering into the color palette are probably going to linger for another 8-10 months, maybe even 12 months. Further out, however, the palettes will begin to lighten up. People don’t want to be depressed forever—they want to renew, reconnect and move on.”

Environmental Influences

Despite the current economic and global concerns—or possibly, in some cases, because of them—an increasing number of today’s consumers are reaching out to the natural environment, and this trend is reflected in the way they decorate their kitchens, bathrooms and other areas of the home that traditionally feature a lot of pottery and ceramic tile. According to Juan Aguilera, lab technician for Laguna Clay Co., City of Industry, Calif., natural, earthy colors have become increasingly popular over the past several months, especially among tile producers. “Light earth tones such as burnt umber, brown and ivory are very strong right now, along with some mochas and smoked blues,” Aguilera says. According to de Sibour, a consideration for the environment has become deeply rooted in people’s mentalities. “As a result, many consumers are drawn toward colors that reflect the environment,” he says. Interestingly enough, this trend also ties into everyone’s interest in security and safety. “No matter what’s happening in the world, we know that tomorrow the sky will still be blue and the grass will be green. So we find that those kinds of colors also bring an element of stability, comfort and security to us because they are enduring colors,” de Sibour says.

Regional Trends

Color trends can also very widely by region. For example, Christy Runyan, assistant general manager for Georgie’s Ceramic & Clay Co. in Portland, Ore., has noticed an increased interest in various shades of green among her pottery customers. “We can’t have enough greens in our line right now. The environment is pretty lush up here, so the current trend fits our climate. I don’t see the shocking colors nearly as much; instead, I see colors becoming deeper, richer and really complementary.” However, David Gamble, vice president of marketing for American Art Clay Co. Inc. (AMACO) in Indianapolis, Ind., notes that many of AMACO’s customers actually prefer the brighter colors. “The ‘hot’ colors—reds and oranges and other bright colors—are still hot. We’ve also seen a high demand for purples and violets,” Gamble says. According to de Sibour the reason for these differences can be explained because as people think about the environment, they tend to think about their local environment. “In the Southwest, for example, you’ll typically see a lot of sage greens and terra cottas, while in the Northwest you’ll see more browns and dark greens,” he says. “There’s also an ethnic factor,” de Sibour adds. “People from Spanish and Latin American backgrounds are becoming a predominant segment of the population in many regions, and they’re bringing their color choices with them. They tend to prefer cleaner, brighter colors—reds, yellows and oranges—because they’re used to living in a warmer, sunnier climate, where you need a more intense color so that the daylight doesn’t mask it or wash it out. We’ll see a continuing influence of those kinds of colors manifested in some areas as the population shifts.”

Technology Advances

According to de Sibour, technology advances will also bring subtle shifts in the color palette over the next eight to 12 months. “There is an increasing use of ‘color effects’—metallics, pearlescents, interference colors (colors that shift in different lighting), and the concepts of translucency and transparency,” he explains. “Designers are trying to figure out how to take colors that haven’t changed a lot but make them more interesting—give them more depth and more dimension—and technology is allowing them to do this with greater and greater facility. For example, we’re seeing metallic threads woven into upholstery, and we’re seeing decorative items like vases that are being made thinner and more translucent. This trend will continue into 2003 because it enables consumers to decorate with something that has more movement, more excitement and more dimension without having to change their color schemes.”

Staying on Top of the Trends

Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to consumer trends, whether color or otherwise. But predicting color doesn’t have to be a random guessing game. By understanding the factors that influence color selection and choosing your colors accordingly, you can be relatively confident that your products will be a success in the market for many months to come.

Editor’s note: Color Marketing Group (CMG) is an international, not-for-profit association of 1700 professionals who enhance the function, salability and/or quality of a product through their knowledge and appropriate application of color. CMG members forecast colors one to three years in advance for a wide range of industries, manufactured products and services. For more information, contact CMG at 5904 Richmond Highway, Suite 408, Alexandria, VA 22303-1864; (703) 329-8500; fax (703) 329-0155; e-mail cmg@colormarketing.org; or visit www.colormarketing.org.

For More Information

More information about color and glaze suppliers can be found in Ceramic Industry’s 2002-2003 Data Book and Buyers’ Guide, in print or online at www.ceramicindustry.com.

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