CONSUMER ISSUES FOR PUBLIC POLICY
INITIAL STUDY OVERVIEW
Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, Rutgers University, Camden
Many consumers throughout the United States
have impaired or limited information processing capabilities as part of
congenital or illness-related disabilities, yet their specific informational
problems and needs have been infrequently addressed in formal study. In
the present study, I examine the specific issue of color-blindness and
its impacts upon shopping, packaging, and advertising. The survey responses
of actual color-blind shoppers are content-analyzed for common problems,
and recommendations are given for creating a more user-friendly shopping
It is likely that color-blind consumers
are unable to process some or all aspects of visual color information,
potentially increasing their vulnerability in the marketplace. Basically,
color-blind persons are at a disadvantage in exchange relationships where
their performance is related to the abilities to see, to recognize, and
to discriminate among colors. For them, color cues simply may not be processed
and interpreted as intended.
Studies of consumer reaction to advertising,
packaging, and other informational cues traditionally assume that the vision
capabilities of consumers are within a relatively-standard range of color
capabilities. As marketers, we translate that understanding of color in
designing packages, developing advertisements, and in general, communicating
meaning to consumers (Edell and Staelin 1983; Lee and Barnes 1990; Meyers-Levy
and Peracchio 1995). In reality, the ability to perceive color is not uniform
among all persons. Some persons who are color-blind are unable to see color
at all; more common, however, are persons whose color vision is confusing,
distorted, and difficult to match to the color-information provided in
The knowledge of color perception and processing
builds its foundation on experimental evidence in psychology and vision
studies, in which the colors, types, hues, and combinations are examined
in assessing their impact on the meaning which is thought to be derived.
However, ophthalmic evidence and consumer complaints tell us that a substantial
number of consumers do not see colors in the ways in which our theories
predict. It may be surprising to learn that in the United States alone,
approximately 19 million persons possess some form of color-blindness.
While many of these persons are not technically blind, there may be some
colors which are inaccessible to them, appearing instead as a confusing
blend of greys.
Depth interviews and surveys were completed
by an initial sample of color-blind persons, using a snowballing sampling
method. The informants were asked to describe their
vision condition in their own words, to learn how they perceive the interrelationships
among the colors that they can see, and those which they cannot see. They
were also asked to discuss their perceived problems with advertising, in-store
shopping, and packaging. They described their satisfaction with each of
the three areas, and also provided insight into problems which they encounter.
In addition, they were asked to use numerical rating scales on applications
of color which are commonly adopted in the consumer products area.
The informants indicated that a common
set of problems exist, which can significantly affect the color-blind person's
abilities to shop capably and effectively. As consumers, they want to match
items such as clothing and home decorations. They want to be able to find
warning information on labels and to use products correctly. Basically,
color-blind persons want to know what a color is, how to tell if something
matches another item, and what information they need to be safe.
Color-blind shoppers experience predictable problems in the marketplace. Reds and greens pose the most consistent set of problems; dim lighting makes the problems even worse. Since color-blind persons process color information in a different way from color-sighted consumers, color-distortions can affect their abilities to choose products, to notice information in advertising and on packaging, and to operate effectively in store settings. Policymakers should be might consider interventions such as increased verbal color information on color-related products and increased contrast to highlight important information which affects consumer choice.
The informants had several suggestions
which could potentially produce packaging which is more user-friendly for
those who are color-blind, have age- or illness-related degenerative vision,
or who have limited sight. Rather than printing warnings in commonly-used
reds and greens, warnings which use universally-perceived cues are recommended.
Warnings could adopt commonly-understood symbols or indicators, such as
a circle with a slash, or print the entire message in capital letters.
Such considerations are important in providing equal access to employee
safety and protection.
Color-blind consumers have voiced their
concerns with public settings which limit their accessibility to safe use
and law-abiding behaviors. For instance, consumer activists launched a
campaign heralding "color awareness" after a color-coded parking system
was instituted in Palo Alto, California (Leibovich 1995). Since color was
the only cue used to inform shoppers of parking instructions, color-blind
consumers were clearly placed at a disadvantage. Other activities, such
as driving, extend to concerns with safety. Since traffic lights are generally
dependent upon color and position recognition, such signals sometimes vary
between horizontal and vertical rows of lights, which can cause confusion.
The color cue could be supplemented by a uniform system of stripes or shapes
embedded in the lens of the signal Britten 1994).
References available upon request. Appears
in the Proceedings of the 1998 Public Policy and Marketing Conference.
For further information contact:
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