Denotative Meanings

Colour can refer to both the hue and its saturation. Primary hues are Red, Yellow, and Blue. Secondary hues are mixtures of primary hues: Orange, Green, and Purple. Tertiary hues are mixtures of a primary and a secondary hue, resulting in hues such as Crimson or Lilac. Saturation can be described as a tint (a colour diluted with white); a shade (a colour diluted with black); or a tone (a colour mixed with its complimentary colour or gray). Complementary colours are two that sit opposite each other on the colour spectrum and that combine to make white light or gray pigment. When placed next to one another, they harmonize each other and are considered visually appealing. A colour palate refers to all of the colours selected for a product’s design.

In Canada, colour variation on cigarette packs is commonly used to differentiate a brand’s line extensions.

The appearance of colour can be affected by finishes, material (such as the inner foil), and embossing and debossing.


“Colors are powerful communicators that affect our perceptions and that evoke emotional responses in us. Different colors, and even varying shades of a specific color, convey different meanings. Further, a specific color used in combination with another color(s) can communicate something entirely different than when used alone. The meanings that we attach to various colors and our color preferences are impacted by demographic, psychographic and economic factors.” 1

A brand’s colours must be carefully selected to appeal to its target market so that products will “break through retail clutter, appeal to the consumer and communicate information about the product.” 2

Incidentally, to ensure that colours and their meanings do not conflict with those used by various manufacturers around the world, the Color Marketing Group was created in 1962. Twice a year, marketers from various industries meet with “qualified Color Designers who interpret, create, forecast and select colors in order to enhance the function, salability and quality of manufactured goods.” 3

Various marketing studies have shown the following, as summarized by Colour Marketing: 4

  • Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.
  • Color accelerates learning from 55 to 78 percent.
  • Color increases comprehension by 73 percent.
  • Color can be up to 85 percent of the reason people decide to buy.


Overarching Theme Sub-Theme Connotative Chains
Lifestyle Luxury / Glamour Connotations of specific hues and tones that connote luxury:

  • Silver, Gold, Bronze, Sapphire Blue, Emerald Green, and Ruby Red –> Precious/expensive materials


  • Black (expecially when shiny or textured) –> Black tie attire, ‘being in the black’ –> Classy, important, successful, rich 5

    Superslims black

  • Deep Blue –> Royal blue, blue-blooded, blue-chip stock –> Aristocracy, power
  • Purple –> Royalty, prestige
  • Satiny White (with shine or tint) –> Classy, quality, expensive 6
    “A ‘modified’ white background such as a pearlized white or a ‘soft’ pinstriping upgrades the generic or ‘basic’ image of a plain white box” 7
  • Matte White (without shine or tint) –> Generic, basic, lower price, not luxurious 8
Lifestyle Gender Connotations of hues and tones that connote gender:

  • Deep colours (deep blue and green, yellow-based reds, dark shades of grey) –> Strength, boldness –> Masculinity 9


    Legend background


  • Light colours (pastels and whites)-> Gentle, soft, relaxed –> Femininity 10
  • Pearlized white –> Cleanliness, purity, innocence –>  Femininity 11
  • Blue-based red tones (variations of red, pink, purple) –> Warmth –> Femininity 12

    Lilas embossing1

    Matinee background

Healthfulness Strength Colour variation is commonly used to communicate a heirarchy of relative strength of flavour.

  • Lighter colours –> Pure, clean, pristine, airy and calm, cool, clean 13
  • Red –> Power, strength, richness 14
  • Dark blue –> Strength 15
  • “In general, deeper prime colors convey a stronger flavor. For example, a deep blue or prime red are associated with full flavor, while less than prime-color hues suggest, prorata, less than full flavor.” 16

Hierarchies of colour can express healthfulness or cleanliness.

  • “Package design can make an inferential statement that, in relative terms, the brand is a more clean and healthy alternative. The amount and distribution of white space makes a major contribution in this regard.” 17
  • “‘Light-lighter-lightest’ were achieved by insistence [sic] on lighter presentations – product story imagery ‘ white packs – pale colours – mildness dominated copy.” 18
  • “White is generally held to convey a clean, healthy association.” 19

Visual Examples:

  • Light/white –> Low tar, less-than full flavour



  • Ecru, Beige, Brown –> Tobacco leaves, taste 20



  • Deep colour –> Strong flavour, higher tar content

    Legend background

    Players background



  1. Philip Morris. Literature Review: Colour. 1994. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Color Marketing. Visitors. Available at: Accessed January 14, 2012.
  4. Philip Morris. Summary Of Consumer Learning About Packaging Elements. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Marketing Perceptions Inc for Philip Morris – Merit brand and packaging review-a qualitative research summary. Available at: Accessed September 13, 2011.
  8. Philip Morris. Literature Review: Colour. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  9. Philip Morris. Summary Of Consumer Learning About Packaging Elements. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Philip Morris. Literature Review: Colour. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Color Marketing. Visitors. Available at: Accessed January 14, 2012.
  15. D-235 Research Report, Exploration of Various Design Parameters Re: Export ‘A’ Pack Re-Design, June 1991 (JTI-1677).
  16. British American Tobacco Co., Ltd. Research & development/marketing conference. Circa 1985. [081, PSC 60], In RW Pollay and T Dewhirst. Marketing Cigarettes with low machine-measured yields. (National Cancer Institute. Risks associated with smoking cigarettes with low machine–measured yields of tar and nicotine. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 13. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, NIH Pub. No 0205074, October 2001.)
  17. British-American Tobacco Company. (1986, May 23rd). Principles of Measurement of Visual Stand out in Pack Design. Report No. Rd.2039. Bates Number: 109975772.
  18. Philip Morris. Literature Review: Colour. Accessed December 13, 2011.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.