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The Physics of Marketing – Newton’s Theory of Color

It never occurred to me that someone invented the color wheel, but in fact Isaac Newton did just that and more with his Theory of Color.  Newton used prisms to show that white light was actually made by a combination of the “ROY G BIV” colors of the rainbow.  At that time there were varying theories regarding color and light, and Newton’s assertion, which seems like common knowledge today, was quite controversial at the time he introduced it.

Newton explained that objects appear to be a certain color because of how they reflect light, rather than color being an inherent property of an object – A red apple reflects red light which is seen by the eye.  Newton went on to place the colors on a wheel, where he could then illustrate the concept that by combining primary colors in various proportions, all other colors could be created.  This led to the idea of complementary colors such as blue and orange which when used together provided maximum contrast.

Newton’s theory of color has been studied and refined over time and is often directly applied in marketing though the design process.  Visit a graphic design studio and color wheels abound with countless shades and tones, which when combined correctly, offer dramatic visual appeal.  Who knew that graphic design had roots in physics?

So the big question becomes how to extend Newton’s theory into some broader analogy about Marketing.

Here goes…

Okay, so suppose the market is equal to white light. Each company has an ability to use the components of that light to reflect a given appearance.   Just as light can be broken down into colors, Marketing can be broken down into categories.  This traditionally has been represented as the 4 P’s of Marketing (Product, Price, Place, and Promotion) – although many other models exist.  For today, I will go with the trusted 4 P’s.

Marketing seeks out new ways to combine colors to create something of beauty and value for the consumer.  Some might like blue and orange (everyday low prices, no frills), others red and green (design and style).

Companies are tasked with choosing the right mix of the colors they have to tell a unique story to the consumer.  If this story resonates, i.e. the consumer perceives the colors to be different and chooses them, the company has a chance to succeed. This is the idea of the Marketing Mix.  What products to sell?  How much to sell products for?  How much attention to focus on service?  How much to spend on advertising?  Whether to open a store online in a shopping mall?  There are some combinations that work well, and some that result in ugly gray brown.

In totality all of these brands, all of the commercials, promotions, channels of distribution, and available products combine to make the consumer marketplace – white light.  Perception is the prism by which the market is broken down into segments, and in the end consumer gets to choose their own favorite colors.

What do you think?  How can you apply Newton’s Theory of Color to Marketing?  Please share your theories and thougths by leaving a comment.