Color therapy to beat recession blues

From home appliances and cars to gadgets and clothes, companies are using bright vibrant hues to excite reluctant consumers.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, senior writer

LG new washer/dryer set for 2008 comes in this "Emerald Green" finish, priced at $1,049 for the washer and $949 for the dryer.
GM's 2008 Chevy Corvette in Jetstream metallic blue.
Electronics maker Memorex this month launched the iWake clock radio ($79.99 each) for the iPod in a range of edgy metallic colors.

NEW YORK ( -- With the gray clouds of recession looming over their businesses, consumer product companies - from cars and home appliances to gadgets and clothing makers - are trying to color their way out of an intensifying spending slump.

Bright vibrant hues like green, orange, blue, shocking pink and yellow are splashed across stores nationwide.

"Colors do act as retail therapy when the economy is challenged, just as women tend to spend for makeup during doldrums," said trend specialist Tom Julian.

For instance, handbag maker Coach' (COH)s new summer collection, which is currently in stores, is led by bold patent leather handbags in teal, purple and mahogany.

LG Electronics recently announced two new colors for its front-load washers and dryers, Bahama Blue and Emerald Green. And for the first time, the company is also infusing color - bright blue - into the interior of its stainless steel kitchen oven.

"Companies realize that they have to give consumers an added incentive to cross over the hesitation line and spend some money," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with market research firm NPD Group.

Color is a way to do that, he said. "We saw orange and greens everywhere during the last recession but in limited product categories and not as much as we're seeing it now."

Even so, the Census Bureau's historial retail sales numbers going back to the recession of 1990-91 showed that color, or any other gimmick that merchants resorted to, didn't really help pump up sales during that period.

Retail sales between 1990 and 91 only rose 0.5% to $1.85 trillion before seeing a more pronounced 5% recovery to $1.95 trillion in annual retail sales in 1992.

Neverthess, product makers aren't giving up.

Carmakers, for instance, are counting on wild and wacky colors to energize sagging car sales.

Chris Webb, lead interior/exterior and color designer for General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), the No. 1 U.S. automaker, said the bright metallic orange "solar flare" Hummer H3 is one of the most popular colors and accounts for almost 8% of total H3 sales.

Even though these non-conventional colors typically cost more, Webb said during bad [economic times], "people will gladly pay less for everyday necessities but are still willing to spend more on something different that makes them feel better."

Cohen had a similar opinion. "Consumers are still willing to pay more for something that a little extra special and gives them a sense of pride in ownership," he said.

In 2008, GM is introducing a Chevy Corvette in Jetstream metallic blue and a Pontiac Solstice GXP in yellow in 2009.

"Our customers want these bright colors. They may not be for everyone so we're also offering them as limited promotional colors," Webb said.

Gerald Celente, director of trend research with the Trends Research Institute, said this color push by product makers is a "smart and timely move" during an economic downturn.

"People want to be cheered when the economy is in a slump," said Celente. "It's like the greatest time for music was the Swing era during the Great Depression."

Color is a relatively inexpensive way for retailers to lift mall traffic and sales at a time when both those vital measures are weakening amid surging gas prices.

Celente said merchants can attract the discerning consumer by raising the entertainment quotient of shopping by improving the store environment through color and music.

Cohen agreed. "There's been a sea of sameness in stores," he said. "If retailers want to break away from the pack, they have to do something bold and dramatic to make consumers look in their direction."

Carla Pihowich, brand manager with Memorex, said color had energized the electronics category overall and the company was infusing color more than before across its product portfolio.

"Color is a way for us to create a selling opportunity during tough times," Pihowich said. "We think it's a great strategy that appeals to consumers' personal sense of style."

How long will the color trend last?

"This isn't a short-term fad. It will stay through the downturn and the recovery," said NPD's Cohen. To top of page

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