Colour palettes – do girls like pink and not green?

I was faced with an interesting toy packaging dilemma the other week regarding colour palettes. Specifically we were developing a  range of girl’s toys. The default assumption was we need to have a large proportion of pinks and purply hues to make the packs more attractive to the 6-9 age group. This age range is important because as girls get older they have a more diverse preference in colours, mainly due to them developing their own sense of identity. We wanted to use green as one of our main colours, and we were told (by a toy buyer) that ‘girls don’t like green’. We wanted to know; was this true?

External influences are really at the nub of the question as to why girls are drawn to a particular colour. There’s been a whole lot of research into colour for this purpose and several theories exist. Take this one for example: Humans are defined by their hunter gatherer past. So boys are the hunter and look for the blue skies indicating great hunting days with clear visibility and the green outdoors in which to track food. Girls on the other hand are attuned to gathering berries and fruits which are generally coloured purple, red, pink and orange. Hence the natural attraction to these palettes. In reality, colour preference in the young is influenced by parental interventions. There’s a strong rationale that a desire to affirm gender normality drives colour choices. Before the 1950’s, before mass communication and marketing, colour selections by manufacturers for certain audiences were actually rather mixed. A journal magazine that advised manufacturers of children’s clothes dictated that baby boys should wear pink and girls blue. On the assumption that pink is a stronger colour and blue is gentler and more relaxed hue. I know, sounds ridiculous. But when you consider that you and I have our colours embedded through generations of influence of parents and their parents conforming to a gender normality desire, it only sounds ridiculous based on our own 2oth century experience.

Whatever the real reason, there’s a growing opinion amongst female consumers that the use of pink is becoming a lazy default for manufacturers. They believe it is enforcing gender stereotypes and promoting a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl. However, now that we’re surrounded by pink dolls and ironing boards, is it the case that manufacturers are scared to create something they feel will inherently be a bad seller if they go out on a limb? That is, of course, if it gets beyond the retailers buying team. Here’s an image from an article published on a female parents forum. It shows the difference in Argos toys from the 1970’s to today. There’s a huge difference in the palettes. Interestingly I think the 1970’s products now look more exclusive and better quality. Is pink now so common it is in danger of looking cheap? Are greens and blues, purples, golds and reds actually where we should be heading? I have no problem targeting a pram play product at boys and girls to establish the fact that as parents, men like pushing babies around. Do you? The right colour can even influence pricing – have you considered that too?

So should we use greens for girls aged 6-9? The answer depends on your objectives. Retailers may be ingrained with their own assumptions and preferences of colour on the basis of it being a safe option. But if you are looking for cut-through and an identity for a particular brand amongst strong competition, a colour change from normality will actually achieve far more visibility in-store where the buying happens and strengthen the proposition your product stands for across all your communications.

Bravo Disney for ignoring stereotypical colour palettes and going with a choice for standout. What gender are they going for?

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Ray Wellington

Ray Wellington

Director of Strategy at Milton Bayer working across sectors on What If? propositions. My mantra - 'the answer's out there, you just need to look in the right place'.

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