The eagle-eyed among us rally to red, and the Mr. Magoos are wooed by blue. So says Diana Derval of the market research firm DervalResearch, whose newest findings are based in neuroendocrinological science.
Professor Derval, who says her research shows that visual acuity determines our favorite and least favorite colors, will present these findings at the Association for Research on Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) conference in January 2011.
According to DervalResearch, nearsighted people (those with myopia) tend to prefer short-wave colors like blue, whereas farsighted folks (hyperopia) gravitate to long-wave colors such as red.
It's all a matter of simple physics, Derval explains. Each color refracts differently; in other words, colors hit different places on the retina according to their wavelength. Short-wave colors such as blue and violet target the front, whereas long-wave colors such as red and yellow hit the back. The focal point of the eye is the place where all color waves meet after passing the lens, but the exact location of the focal point varies among individuals.
"Because nearsighted people focus light closer to the front of the retina," explains Derval, "watching blue colors is effortless for them. To perceive red colors, on the other hand, they have to tense the ocular muscles."
Conversely, farsighted people have a shorter eyeball and the focal point is beyond the retina. Looking at red is easy on their eyes, whereas gazing at blue requires that they tense the ocular muscles. People tend to gravitate towards the colors that relax them, Derval says.
Derval conducted her research on men and women of various ethnicities: Chinese, Caucasian, African and Middle-Eastern. Subjects reported their lower-order aberrations (nearsightedness or farsightedness), and then declared which color they preferred, which color they found relaxing and which color they found irritating. The reported colors were classified by their wavelength in nanometers (nm). Derval found the correlation between visual acuity and color preference to be slightly stronger in women than in men.
Patrick Jansen, owner of the Optics shop New Optics in Belgium, and chairman of the Carl Zeiss Academy Belgium, decided to put this scientific approach to the test when designing a recent advertising campaign. New Optics sent out 1,000 invitation cards advertising a special offer. One side of the card was printed on a blue background with the blurb, "If you choose this color side you must be nearsighted; let's talk about it the next time you visit." The reverse was printed on a red background with, "If you choose this color side you must be farsighted; let's talk about it the next time you visit." Jansen says that 100 people visited the shop with their invitation, and most nearsighted people did indeed prefer the blue side, saying that blue had been their favorite color since their childhood. Most farsighted people preferred red.
DervalResearch is riding the wave of a brave new trend in "neuromarketing," which combines cutting-edge neuroscience with marketing research. And there's a lot more to the research than simply determining people's color preferences based on their visual aberrations. Derval's research also targets those other four senses: taste, touch, smell and hearing.
Most intriguingly, there is a hormonal connection to all of this sensory research; that's the "endocrinological" part. "Consumers are unique individuals but they are also predictable," says Derval. "Their preferences and behavior are directly linked to their biological and sensory perceptions. And these perceptions are greatly due to the influence of prenatal hormones."
Drawing upon thousands of measurements in over 25 countries, Derval developed what she calls "a powerful and predictive biological segmentation tool," the Hormonal Quotient (HQ). "We have discovered that people's perception of products and services-via their taste buds, hair cells in the inner ear, rod and cone cells in the eyes and skin sensors-is linked to their Hormonal Quotient," she says. "Knowing consumers' HQ makes it possible to predict not only their favorite colors, but also their preferred tastes, smells, shapes, textures and sounds."
DervalResearch's HQ tool was developed by studying over 50 target groups, including top executives, housewives, entrepreneurs, purchasing managers and opinion leaders. From this Derval was able to determine eight different Hormonal Quotient profiles.
Applied properly, Derval says, these profiles will allow firms to design and deliver the right consumer experience across their markets in a very cost-effective way, predicting consumers' sensory perceptions, purchasing behavior and product preferences based on their biological profiles. "Companies no longer need to conduct traditional, recurrent and costly surveys," she says. "They just have to identify the profile and Hormonal Quotient (HQ) of their consumers once."
Derval says that a range of industries—food and beverage, electronics, luxury items, fashion, cosmetics, automotive, pharmaceuticals, advertising, leisure and tourism, to name but a few—will benefit from this research.
Besides conducting marketing research for companies all over the world, Derval is also the author of a book, "The Right Sensory Mix: Targeting Consumer Product Development Scientifically" (Springer), based on her company's research. The book explains how to understand and predict customer preferences and offers tools for tailoring the sensory mix of color, shape, taste, smell, texture and sound. It includes case studies from top brands including Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Sofitel, Häägen-Dazs, Bjorn Borg and Nintendo.
Derval intends her book to help advance her firm's mission to build a bridge between scientific knowledge and business. Science, she notes, has most often been used to explain phenomena, but it has been under-utilized to understand and predict consumer preferences.
Markus Kohler, director of packaging at Philip Morris International, endorses Derval's research—and her book—saying, "Professor Diana Derval breaks 'conventional' consumer insights with a new, scientific approach, producing unexpected strategies for predicting consumer behaviors and new ways of identifying unexplored, profitable market segments."
But this research is not all about luring consumers to spend more of their hard-earned money. Besides allowing marketers to fine-tune their approach and deliver the optimal sensory mix to specific market segments, Derval says her work has many other useful applications. "This research will make it easier to adapt medical, public and private services to individuals who are sensitive to certain colors," she explains.