Why did our parents' crayon box only yield six colors while kids today are enjoying a dizzying 120?! The answer is in the naming: today's kids are scribbling away with "razzmatazz" and "tropical rain forest." This move towards ambiguous naming is extremely effective according to an article in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
"The results from these studies suggest that color names can influence propensity of purchase, and that this effect is related to the typicality and specificity (or lack thereof) of the names and people's underlying assumptions that information in the marketplace should conform to certain norms," propose Elizabeth Miller (Boston College) and Barbara Kahn (University of Pennsylvania).
Miller and Kahn demonstrate through this study that what is in a name, although it may be ambiguous, matters; in fact, the more atypical and unspecific the better. The authors note that while previous research has touched on similar topics, this area of research is understudied. "In addition, although researchers have suggested that people carry the assumptions of conversational norms into settings other than interpersonal conversation, no one has demonstrated that these norms also play a role in marketing communications."
The bottom line: 120 colors in a crayon box may be just the beginning. Consumers love these names and it is a marketing dream come true. The authors conclude "that consumers prefer atypical and unspecific (ambiguous) names to more typical and more specific names (common descriptives)."
Shades of Meaning: The Effect of Color and Flavor Names on Consumer Choice. Elizabeth G. Miller and Barbara E. Kahn. Journal of Consumer Research. June 2005.
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