Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Culture: Don't Use Bright Colors in Canada

TORONTO, ONTARIO - According to Genetic Personality Type theory (which I prefer to call Meridian Personality Theory, but I guess the experts define the language), people from the "thinking" world, one of four basic worlds in theory, do not especially like bright light. Sure enough, most of the "thinking" type people I know keep their lights, even reading lights, pretty dark by my standards at night, and are mostly likely to wear sunglasses for practical (as opposed to cosmetic) reasons.

Canada, as I have argued on this blog before, has a "thinking" type culture, as exemplified by its relative emphasis on ideas and debate relative to its southern neighbor, which has an analogous emphasis on image and emotion. It somewhat surprised me upon moving here, though, to realize that the tendency of thinking types to avoid bright colors also exists in Canadian culture.

One of the first things of this nature that struck me was the packaging for Sun Chips. At the time (2006), in the United States, plain Sun Chips came in glossy, dark blue bags. In Canada, the color was somewhat lighter, and the bags were not at all shiny. Of course, since then Sun Chips packaging has become more subdued than either design on both sides of the border, so there is no longer a difference. At the time, though, I started to wonder: Does bright stuff sell in Canada?

In the United States, there are plenty of brands with bright color schemes incorporating screaming yellows, from McDonald's to Pennzoil to Hertz. While those foreign brands seem to do just fine in Canada, I had trouble finding Canadian brands that used bright yellow. Rona, for example, uses yellow, but it's subdued and almost gold. The only two I saw in the Toronto area were No Frills--which even there is pretty limited, as the yellow mostly colors the banana with no buildings painted all yellow--and Pizza Nova. Within months of that observation, Pizza Nova began a makeover to a green and red image as part of an "up-scaling" initiatives, but I had to wonder if the yellow hadn't been holding them back.

How about "day-glow" colors, such as the orange found on Winston cigarettes or even just the fluorescence added to the pastels of Arizona Iced Tea? Telus tried a neon green for awhile before backing off to a more grassy green and purple. I can't think of a single additional example. While there's plenty of red to match the flag (Canadian Tire, Air Canada and Tim Horton's, for example), it's never a glowing shade and there's nothing overtly bright and in one's face. Most Canadian brands are quite subdued, like the blue and orange of Mark's Work Wearhouse, the almost-pastel orange of Pizza Pizza, or the blue and green of WestJet.

Somehow, marketers must have figured out that they were dealing with a "thinking" world culture where flashy colors weren't going to help them very much.

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