Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2017, 5, 186-196
ISSN Online: 2327-5960
ISSN Print: 2327-5952
10.4236/jss.2017.512014 Dec. 26, 2017 186 Open Journal of Social
The Value of Color Research in Brand Strategy
Meagan K. Cunningham
College of Arts and Sciences, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ, USA
more than a design? The following research discusses the science of
color to consumer perception and the value of that color research to consu
er-brand relationships. Specifically, it examines how color influences co
sumers’ perception and how brands strategically utilize color to distinguish
themselves amongst competitors, establish an identity, promote an image, and
foster relationships with its consumers. To examine the significance
to consumer perception and brand imagery, a nonrandom sample of men and
women between the ages of 18 and 37 years old participated in a focus group
that included color-centric photos and
a survey. The results of the nonrandom
sample also show that colors used in branding influence consumers’ perce
tion, are used to identify products, and carry meaning that’s evolved into a r
lationship between the brand and the consumer. These findings were consi
tent with previous research that found through color, brands effectively esta
lish an identity, communicate a mood, and form a relationship with consu
ers (Labrecque and Milne, 2011) . The results of the survey also reveal
consumers don’t rely solely on color when recognizing a branding and
can be done to examine how integral color is to manufacturing brand-
Brand Strategy, Brand Personality, Color, Communication, Visual Thinking
To some consumers, color is merely a decorative trait. However, in marketing
strategies, color is used by brands to reach consumers on a deeper level and
stand out in the market amongst competitors. The objective of this article is to
analyze brands that have benefited from color strategy, while providing psycho-
logical insight to brands and entrepreneurs entering the business market.
Brandeo (2013)  explains that a brand is the sum of all associations, feelings,
How to cite this paper:
The Value of Color Research
in Brand Strategy
November 23, 2017
December 23, 2017
December 26, 2017
© 2017 by author and
Research Publishing Inc.
work is licensed under the Creative
(CC BY 4.0).
M. K. Cunningham
10.4236/jss.2017.512014 187 Open Journal of Social
perception, and attitudes that consumers relate to both the intangible and tangi-
ble characteristics of a company, product or service. In the retail, food and beve-
rage, home improvement, and pharmaceuticals, color is strategically used to at-
tract consumers, communicate a personality, status, and build a relationship
with consumers based on loyalty.
To ensure color is most effective, brands wanting to optimize success, should
seek color research that can best meet their objectives of appealing to consumers.
In the 1980s, an emergence of studies showed consumer-brand relationships
came with financial values, which brought the concept of a brand image to
mainstream marketing theories, and encouraged major brands to spend more
time and attention to the science of color and what it meant to consumers
(Grimes and Doole, 1998: p. 800) .
The color-emotion pairings are experienced by consumers through a neuro-
logic scientific process of cognition, where consumers’ sense of sight results in
the brain’s processing of color as a form of information. In a 2007 study, it was
found that “associative learning of visual information develops during early
stages of visual processing as a key mechanism for quick decision making” (La-
brecque and Milne, 2011: p. 713) .” The validity of color-research dates as far
back as 1971n and shows there is an association between color, emotion and
perception (Grimes and Doole, 1998)  and because the majority of colors are
paired with an emotion and physical attribute, brands and consumers who wish
to portray themselves in a specific manner, choose colors that pair with specific
connotations. For example, brands and consumers that want to be viewed as
young and vibrant, tend to choose bright colors, while those who desire to ap-
pear sophisticated and wealthy, choose colors like black, purple or beige.
In turn, brands can utilize color to provide information to the consumer
about a product attributes such as price and quality, while influencing consum-
ers’ opinion about a business’ product or service. Notably, while color-emotion
pairings studies are limited, the effects of colors remain relatively consistent
across studies can be sustained across national boundaries (Grimes and Dooole,
1998: p. 799) . Using the appropriate colors in branding allows brands to de-
velop an identity and build a brand relationship with consumers, that’s worth
the investment. The value of color psychology is so important to marketing
strategies that it has caused some corporations to spend millions of dollars to
further distinguish themselves against competition with color rebranding cam-
paigns, and other corporations to take legal action against those who may
threaten its brand’s trademarked color. While some corporations choose to take
advantage of color research, those ones that do not can risk mediocrity.
Having both physical and emotional properties, color provides information to
consumers about a corporation’s brand. From the time a consumer sees a dis-
play in a store window up to the purchasing decision, the association of emotion
and color are important to corporate brands. Within seconds, color can influ-
ence a consumer to form an opinion about a business’ product or service before
any other additional information has been provided (Goodgold, 2010: p. 99) .
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Research on the physical and emotional properties of color is crucial to the de-
velopment of brands and marketing strategies as it is important to assess what it
is consumers are seeing.
2. Perception and Behavior
When used strategically, the appropriate color that is chosen to represent a
brand can be very effective as perception as “the brain’s organizing and inter-
preting of sensory information from the environment to give it its meaning”
(Ndom, Elegbeleye and Ademoriti, 2011: p. 169) . How an organization is
perceived can be a result of how it communicates visually through its brand’s
Contrary to lettered logos, tag lines and other components used in branding,
color, including its hue and saturation, is perceived and translated by the brain,
without context. LaBrecque and Milne (2011) further explain that if consumers
encounter a new brand logo and there are no brand associations (like shapes)
existing in memory, the resulting perception of that brand’s personality is pri-
marily based on the brain’s activated association triggered by the referential
meaning of the color (p. 713) .
Fundamentally, colors appeal to consumers’ sense of sight, and “vision is the
dominant sensory for man” (Ndom, Elegbeleye and Ademoriti, 2011: p. 171) .
Unlike the flexibility of the body’s other four, color has the ability to trigger an
emotional response, carry an associated meaning and be used as a means of
identification. In the eye of consumers, color is more than a pretty design—it’s a
science. To perceive color is a cognitive process (Ndom, Elegbeleye and Ademo-
riti) , increasing brain activity, establishing a pattern of memory and evoking
Consumers process color in wavelengths, or measurements of light (Aslam,
2006: p. 17) . Then, that “color is light carried on wavelengths absorbed by the
eyes that the brain converts into colors that we see” (Singh, 2006: p. 783) .
The color red has the longest wavelength while purple has the shortest. Addi-
tionally, colors that are alike such as red, yellow and orange have similar wave-
lengths; while colors like purple, blue and brown have their own comparable
wavelengths. These measurements of light, or the vision of color, react with
nerves in the body and can stimulate arousal, induce a change in attitude and
thus, produce an emotional response, impacting consumer behavior (LaBrecque
and Milne, 2011: p. 713) .
Researchers have found that the emotional responses triggered by colors are
consistent. The color red is linked to exciting, yellow to playful or cheerfulness,
green to feelings of security, purple to connotations of luxury and wealth, and
blue to intelligence, tranquility, communication and trust (Grimes and Doole,
1998; LaBrecque and Milne, 2011; Aslam, 2006)  .
Tavassoli (2011)  explains that consumer perception is not primarily de-
pendent on words because perception automatically results from the representa-
tion of color in visual short-term memory. When consumers see a color, and it is
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processed from wavelengths to emotions, they will naturally assign meanings or
values to what the color cognitively represents. Using color, consumers retain
information, interpret identity and form an emotion-based response that results
in patterns of behavior. Therefore, “the systematic relationship between color
and emotions and psychological functioning provoke people to choose consis-
tent color-emotion pairings” (Labrecque and Milne, 2011: p. 713) .
To strategically drive sales, Singh (2006) points out that formal restaurants use
blue to calm and relax customers, leading them to stay longer, and eat larger
meals; while the color yellow is famously used by fast food restaurants to catch
customers’ attention and encourage them to eat (p. 785) . Further spotlighting
the cognitive effects of color on consumer behavior, Alpert reports “patrons are
15 percent more likely to return to stores with blue color schemes than to stores
with orange .” Understanding these research findings can enable corporations
to use color to affect consumer perception and develop strategic marketing tac-
tics to alter consumer behavior. In this way, as Grimes and Doole (1998) explain
“brands have gone beyond the promotion of tangible and functional benefits and
into the mystical realms of emotion, perception and image (p. 799) .”
3. Communicating an Image
To consumers, color can be used to communicate a status, attitude or key mes-
sage. Consumers rely on their sense of color to retrieve information but also to
give information. As a part of the cognitive processing of color, Aslam (2006)
explains, “people tend to choose the colors of their cars, homes, clothes and even
sports shoes depending on how they wish to present themselves (p. 24) .” By
utilizing this information, brands can use a color to target a specific audience
and communicate an identity or personality trait.
Consumers’ interest in using a brand as a means of self expression positions
businesses to use color research to create marketing strategies that build brand
recognition, brand personality and brand loyalty. In an Italian advertisement,
Volkswagen Car Company showed a black sheep in a flock in Italy to portray the
VW Golf owner as an independent self-assured person, because in Italy, a black
sheep is a symbol of independence (Aslam, 2006: p. 26) . Volkswagen targeted
people looking to communicate an image of self-sufficiency and confidence. The
strategic use of color in this advertisement appealed to consumer perception and
communicated an image consumers would want to replicate.
Another organization that was able to reach a specific target audience by using
color is theSusan G. Komen foundation that has raised awareness of breast can-
cer using the color pink (Figure 1) . “Pink has become the signature color of
women, because they embrace it (Goodgold, 2010: p. 102) .” By associating
the color pink with femininity, Susan G. Komen has been able to engage and
mobilize millions of women and advocates across the United States.
Although colors are beneficial, they shouldn’t just be picked on a simple spec-
trum, saturation, or the brightness or dullness of a color, should also be consi-
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10.4236/jss.2017.512014 190 Open Journal of Social
Figure 1. Susan G. Komen breast can-
cer awareness logo.
Aslam (2006) makes a point of visual branding noting simple colors are vi-
brant and playful like, Toys ‘R’ Us and McDonald’s, whereas sophisticated colors
[likeblack or burgundy (Alpert, 2013)] seen in brands like Laura Ashley (home
furnishings and décor) and Jaguar denote elegance (p. 25)  . For consum-
ers wanting to communicate elegance, they become attached to a brand’s visual
identity and develop an increased likeability with that image. Laura Ashley and
Jaguar communicate an identity of luxury and class in order to target a higher
demographic. If Laura Ashley and Jaguar used only text to communicate sophis-
tication, building an outward expressive brand, with loyalists could be more
challenging. The brand personality and the effectiveness of color allow for cor-
porate brands to implement color into marketing strategies that shape consumer
perception, behavior and purchase intent. Grimes and Doole (1998) suggest “re-
searchers all over the world have begun to recognize the importance of color in
reaching increasingly sophisticated customers on a deeper level” (p. 799) .
As a part of a marketing strategy, Singh (2006) emphasizes “research relating
to choice of colors should be conducted and concluded before launching a
product, as the wrong color choice can have negative impact on the image of the
product and the company” (p. 786) . Researching the perception of color and
its effects on consumer behavior can enable brands to reach a specific audience
and communicate a desired image that brand loyalists embrace. Ndom, Elegbe-
leye and Ademoriti add that the “knowledge of perception helps understand
humans better, and design systems appropriately (p. 169) .” Because color has
consistency in emotions, knowing what influences consumer behavior, attracts
consumers, increases likeability and maintains brand loyalists could strongly po-
sition a brand against its competitors. The exponential value of color psychology
is demonstrated in color rebranding campaigns and legal cases that cherish
4. Major Marketing
For marketers, the perception process must first begin with capturing the con-
sumer’s attention. Goodgold (2010) found that “color is a powerful tool; within
three seconds of seeing something we [consumers] register its color (p. 99) .”
Using appropriate visual branding, color can alter a brand message, image or
appeal, or elicit a physical response, rather than psychological one.
Madden, Hewitt, and Roth (2000) found that after Wagner Color Research
Institute discovered orange was associated with cheapness, it advised Weiner-
schnitzel, a fast food restaurant, to add orange to the visual brand of its buildings
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to convey a message that it sold inexpensive hot dogs .
Weinerschnitzel reported a 7 percent increase in sales after it added orange.
Therefore, Weinerschnitzel was able to effectively communicate its message by
using only color (Madden, Hewitt, and Roth, 2000: p. 91) .
One of the most expensive endeavors, where a corporation placed heavy fi-
nancial value on color, was the case of Pepsi versus Coca-Cola.
In 1996, Pepsi launched a $500 million color rebranding initiative called
“Project Blue” (Figure 2) (Tavassoli, 2001: p. 104)   .
The campaign was a worldwide venture to distinguish its “electric blue” color
against Coca-Cola’s bold red. LaBrecque and Milne (2011) found that as a part
of its “Project Blue,” one of Pepsi’s major marketing strategies included painting
an Air France Concorde jet blue (p. 711) . Pepsi’s color rebranding strategy
signified the move away from a “traditional color in order to create new color
associations by choosing blue” (Aslam, 2006: p. 23) .
Another costly campaign is Owens Corning fiberglass insulation manufac-
tures. Over the course of 10 years Owens Corning spent over $42 million on a
color rebranding campaign to build a unique brand identity using the color
pink. The “get pink” campaign yielded overwhelming consumer association of
pink insulation with the Owens Corning brand, that was able to distinguish the
insulation it sells against insulation competitors who use the customary yellow
insulation (Zaichkowsky, 2010: p. 555) .
Both Pepsi and Owens Corning invested over tens of millions of dollars on
color to alter consumer perception, reposition its brand, and influence consum-
er-purchasing behavior. By rebranding with a distinctive color, Labrecque and
Milne (2011) explains that “a brand can establish an effective visual identity,
form relationships with a target market and position itself among competitors in
the marketplace (p. 711) .” Color science doesn’t just start and end with a
product. It was found that warm colors (red, orange and yellow) are better in
physically attracting customers (Aslam, 2006), while cooler colors, such as blue
and green, are better for in-store displays and easier on the customer when
making a purchasing decision .
Figure 2. Pepsi’s dominant brand colors in
1987 vs. 1997  .
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The value of color to consumers isn’t limited to retail, food and beverage or
home improvement consumers. Pharmaceutical manufacturers also use color to
appeal to consumers’ means of identification. Nuprin was the first pharmaceuti-
cal drug to make an effort to own rust-color pills (Goodgold, 2010: p. 96) , for
its ibuprofen product. In fact, Goodgold (2010) found that patients often tell
their doctors what medications they’re using by the color . The manufacturer
Levoxyl brands the dosage of its pills with color—a 5 mg Levoxyl might be yel-
low, but a 10 mg Levoxyl may be blue. This identity allows for doctors and pa-
tients to have a better understanding of the prescribed medication. Although
branding medication isn’t a $42 million campaign, the value of color to the iden-
tity process is important manufactures everywhere. Some have even gone
through legal measures to protect their colors from those of its competitors,
through trademark registration.
In the past, trademarks have been reserved for names and logos, but in more
recent decades, “companies have registered colors as trademarks after demon-
strating that a specific color has become so consistently linked with a specific
brand, that it has acquired secondary meaning, which is assessed in court”
(Hoek and Gendall, 2010, p. 317) . Then, to establish a color's distinctive as-
sociation with a brand, counsel must define the color using the international the
Pantone system and produce evidence about the brand’s use of the color, in-
cluding the length of time the color’s been used, the extent of advertising that’s
taken place, and the use of that color by rivals.” (Hoek and Gendall, 2010: p. 317)
The first brand to successfully trademark a color was Qualitex in 1995. Quali-
tex successfully argued that the “green-gold,” that’s on its dry-cleaning pads had
a distinctive association with its particular brand and that competitors using the
“green-gold” were trying to pass off the competing products as the Qualitex
brand (Hoek and Gendall, 2010: p. 317).
More recently, in 2008 British confectioner Cadbury, submitted a court appli-
cation to register its signature color purple, known as Panteone 2385c, which it
had successfully trademarked in 1995 for its chocolate bars specifically. Al-
though Swiss confectioner Nestlé challenged Cadbury’s trademark petition in
court, and won the case in 2013, Cadbury was able to put a legal stop to all other
confectionary companies using its purple because from various tests involving
focus groups and the color wheel, research revealed consumers strongly asso-
ciated Cadbury and purple (BBC News, 2013; Hoek and Gendall, 2010: p. 317)
 . The main focus of these cases centered on importance of color to
consumers’ perception and an assigned meaning or value of the product. Both
organizations proved that the distinctive use of color used on products were per-
tinent to their brand’s identity and valued by their consumers.
As colors are used in branding strategies to establish an identity or a means of
communicating a personality, research shows consumers have a unique brand
experience, evoking feelings and cognitions that result in consistent behavior or
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10.4236/jss.2017.512014 193 Open Journal of Social
loyalty (Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello, 2009: p. 53) . For consumers
brand loyalty is ultimately seen in purchasing decisions, where one product is
valued more than the other, but can develop from a reputation of quality of what
consumers perceive is being communicated through that brand. With Qualitex
and Owens-Corning, consumers became loyalists through their experience with
the paired color, giving the product second meaning.
By brands going to multimillion-dollar measures to distinguished or trade-
mark themselves with color, it’s acknowledged that the value of color research is
critical consumer perception, behavior and brand identity as a whole.
5. Methodology, Results, and Discussion
To test color to consumer perception and brand identity, a nonrandom conven-
ience sample of 20 North Jersey men and women between the ages of 18 and 37
years old participated in a focus group. Using color-centered advertisements and
photos, partnered with a survey questionnaire, this study examined consumer
perception and behavior with color and corporate brand identity. The results of
this study demonstrate the ability of color to provide visual information to con-
sumers without words or lettered logs. This study also shows color is used as a
primary tool in identification and has the ability to influence perception about
price, quality and brand personality. To understand what participants use to
make decisions, some questions included two parts.
To evaluate brand identity in retail clothing, questions include two sets of
side-by-side advertisements that are comparable in content. The advertisements
in set one asked participants to identify which of the two undergarment adver-
tisements is Victoria’s Secret. The results show that 85 percent of participants
recognize Victoria’s Secrets’ brand. When asked what tools were used to identify
the brand, 20 percent recognize the model, 55 percent recognize the fabric or
style, 20 percent recognized a distinguishable color and 0.05 percent feel all three
options contribute to the brand.
To show consistency in color-emotion pairings, as described in previous re-
search, advertisements in set two show women in different color beach attire.
Advertisement one features a woman in a bright yellow and turquoise beach
cover-up, while advertisement two features a woman in a pastel turquoise bikini
and a scarf. Out of the 20 participants 55 percent perceived advertisement one as
fun, 15 percent perceived it as serious, 30 percent perceived it as exciting and
none found it relaxing. Contrary to advertisement one, 50 percent perceived ad-
vertisement two as relaxing, 40 percent perceived it as serious, 0.05 percent per-
ceived it as fun and 0.05 percent perceived it as exciting. To identify the adver-
tisements, 25 percent used the model, 25 percent use color, 30 percent use fabric
and 15 percent use “other” or style.
To further examine consumer’s ability to identity a brand by color, partici-
pants looked at four colors and were asked to match each color to an unlabeled
brand of laundry detergent. The results show 85 percent of participants identify
brands of laundry detergent by color, while 15 percent could not.
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10.4236/jss.2017.512014 194 Open Journal of Social
To show the use of color as a primary tool in the description process, this
study shows what participants use color to give information about a lost item.
The results show 45 percent express they would use color and brand, 25 percent
say they would use just the brand name, 15 percent would use just color and
0.05% would use shape.
Using photos of two restaurants, the study shows the effects of color on con-
sumer perception and how it influences behavior. When selecting restaurant A,
an eat-in fast food chain, or B a cooler toned café-like establishment, as a place
that participants would stay longer, 65 percent say restaurant B and 35% say
restaurant B. Although restaurant A is a fast food place and isn’t preferred by the
majority, the café style restaurant B was also not everyone’s’ choice.
To further study examine consumer perception, a scenario of Target changing
its red to a brown show the opinion of participants about corporate color re-
branding. If Target rebranded from red to brown, 55 percent would find it disa-
greeable, while 30 percent would find it confusing and 15 percent wouldn’t have
an opinion. To gage the personal relationships with color and corporate brands,
participant responses to a personal favorite brand changing its color, show 25
percent say they’d feel confused, 30 percent would find it disagreeable and 33
percent wouldn’t have an opinion.
This study examines how color affects consumer perception and the use of
color in corporate branding. Results show that while some participants struggle
to identify clothing brand advertisements, participants are able to recognize
laundry detergent. Measuring brand likeability, the results show participants
would find it disagreeable if Target changed its red color to brown, although the
participants expressed that they are unsure how they’d feel if their favorite brand
changed its current color to a different color. When it comes to using color as a
tool in the description process, the majority of participants do find color a relia-
ble mechanism. In consumer perception and behavior, the results show that
people are more like to spend more time at a café, (restaurant B) because it ap-
pears to be more comfortable, however a few participants felt that the fast-food
establishment (restaurant A) seating also looked comfortable. Many of the re-
sults are conclusive because the majority of nonrandom convenience sample
show color does affect consumer perception, however a select few of those par-
ticipants express that there are other factors that influence perception, behavior
and brand identity.
Limitations in this paper include sources that are peer reviewed. Furthermore
the methodology used a nonrandom sample of 20 North New Jersey participants
and more insight could be gained from a more representative and scientific
sample. The research lacks data of brands that suffer from not using color re-
search and consumer perception.
The review of literature shows that color is vital to the communication and rela-
tionship building process to both consumers and brands. Furthermore, the effect
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10.4236/jss.2017.512014 195 Open Journal of Social
of color on consumer perception has been financially measured up to $500 mil-
lion and defended in international courts. Although the effect of color on con-
sumer perception shows that color does carry meaning, additional research to
evaluate if consumer loyalty or perception changes, with the change of a brand’s
color. Overall, the literature shows that color can trigger an emotional response,
carry associated and intrinsic meanings, as well as influencing consumers’ per-
ception about what a brand communicates, and whether it’s familiar. The ability
for color to alter purchase intent can be beneficial to in branding strategies
around the world. While many brands value color science, additional research
on organizations that don’t consult color research should also be further studied.
More research can also be done to see how colors are used by brands to mani-
pulate consumer perception, due to the intrinsic cognitive associations,
brands using green to communicate naturalness or an environment-safe identi-
ty. Nonetheless color research should be utilized by any brand wanting to con-
nect with consumers and stakeholders on a deeper level. After all, “when color
has a specific, predetermined function that acts to support the overall strategy,
your marketing effort can do all you’ve designed it to do” (Grimes and Doole,
1998: pp. 799-800) .
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