Written by Min Yu
Many people have had the all-too-familiar feeling of opening their medicine cabinets and surveying the wide array of medications they possess: whether it is a feeling of amazement, intimidation, or simply indifference to the multiplicity of options. However, a characteristic that many people tend to overlook when they settle on their medication of choice is the color of pills, which has had many important functions in pharmaceutical marketing and psychology. By analyzing the purpose of color in the course of pharmaceutical history, we will be able to understand how a detail so subtle can create ripple effects in the lives of patients and consumers.
The color of pills has established its purpose in the world of production and marketing. For manufacturers, it is used for identifying and managing production. However, while colors may change depending on manufacturers, many pharmaceutical companies maintain the consistency of colors of popular brands to make them more memorable for consumers. Perhaps the most famous historical example of how the color of pills can influence sales is in the marketing campaign of Viagra, a male genital stimulant. By choosing the color blue for the pill so that the medication would be able to “beat the [other] blues,” the company of Viagra saw its sales for this medication skyrocket in a year to $1.74 billion . Color also serves as a crucial method for patients to identify and keep track of their medications. For example, Medicare patients take an average of 18-24 pills daily and rely on color for identification . Therefore, Medicare patients can use medical advice websites, which use color as a factor for helping people identify their medications, to recognize their pills.
While the color of medications has its purpose in the pharmaceutical industry and in managing medications, it can also have a psychological purpose for consumers and patients. In a research study that was published in the International Journal of Biotechnology, researchers Dr. More and Dr. Srivastavas set out to determine if people were more willing to buy over-the-counter medications based on their appearance . The study took place in India, and participants filled out surveys that asked of their opinions on how important physical appearance of medications were in their overall presentations. Then, the participants were asked to look at the different appearances of the same drug and were asked to choose which one they would like to purchase the most. What the researchers discovered was that 75% of the participants indicated that the physical characteristics of medications, which included color, do play a role in developing a loyalty to a medication brand. In addition, the study showed that people may also form perceptions of taste based on color. In the study, 14% of the participants gravitated toward medications that were pink, because they associated the color with a sweeter taste .
Therefore, the next time you open your medicine cabinet, think about how the color of your pills may possess important functions in pharmaceutical marketing, production, and psychology.
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3. Srivastava, R.K. “Some Aesthetic Considerations for over-the-Counter (OTC) Pharmaceutical Products.” Inderscience Publishers, Inderscience Publishers, Nov. 2010.
4. “Color and Shape of Pills Affects How Patients Feel about Their Medication.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily.