Picture this: you’re driving down the highway. You look out the window, trying to numb your boredom. Music plays softly in the background and you watch billboard after billboard streak by. You sit contemplatively and your mind begins to wander. An intriguing thought crosses your mind, Why are there no pink billboards?
This thought has often occurred to me while sitting in traffic. So why is pink so rarely used in marketing? The answer is simple: pink is interpreted as a feminine color, catering to women rather than men. Specific shades connotate differently, as Entrepreneur says, “Hot pinks convey energy, youthfulness, fun and excitement and are recommended for less expensive or trendy products for women or girls. Dusty pinks appear sentimental. Lighter pinks are more romantic.” Through my research, I’ve discovered fairly-well received connotations about pink. The truth is, companies do use it, just not enough.
To uncover the secret behind the lack of pink used in marketing, let’s start with those who do employ it. Some of the first companies that come to mind are Barbie, PINK, and Pepto Bismol. Barbie and PINK primarily market to women, and though it may not seem obvious at first, so does Pepto Bismol. While Barbie and PINK directly cater to young women and girls, Pepto Bismol appeals to the mom by using a shade of lighter pink. Mothers are considered most likely to buy Pepto Bismol because it is assumed that they take care of the kids when they are sick (a patriarchal assumption).
But the thing is, companies targeting men don’t use pink. And from my research, we can assume that pink doesn’t generally have negative connotations, so why isn’t it used? Men associate pink with completely different connotations. Pink, when applied to men, is perceived as weak and passive. “In the early 1980s, Hayden Fry, the famed coach of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team, thought he had a surefire way to play with opposing teams’ heads: paint the visiting locker rooms pink.” To many men, pink is an emasculating color. Isn’t it strange that a color that makes women feel so good can make men feel so bad?
While it could be hard to pinpoint why men don’t like the color pink, inferences can be made from studies on the psychology of the color. As color psychology says, “Its negative sides are that it can seem weak, vulnerable and silly. It is also linked to shallowness and not seeing reality.” Those are the traits men attribute to “degrade” women. Does a phrase like, “There can’t be a female American president because she would be too weak, dumb, and moody,” sound familiar? Men disassociate with the color pink for the same reasons they fear women. And in a world where men posses most of the world’s wealth, of course organizations would want to appeal to men rather than women. And this is why the majority of companies do not use pink in their marketing.
Thankfully, the world is changing and pink has begun to be accepted as a universal color. Some shades of pink, specifically the famous ‘Millennial pink’, are worn by both men and women. As is shown, “many millennials believe that this shade is ‘genderless.’” Pink is often used in marketing by companies that are owned by women or members of the LGBT+ community. Some of these progressive enterprises include the Museum of Ice Cream, whose CEO is Maryellis Bunn, Black Girl Health, City Girl Coffee, and Big Gay Ice Cream shop. For marginalized groups, pink is a liberating and empowering color. The rise of LGBTQ+ and women-owned businesses is creating what you could call a ‘pink revolution’: a move to using pink in mainstream branding.
The future of the color pink in marketing is a bright one. The societal shift to the acceptance of pink is on the rise, attributing this success to a world that is growing more open minded. Whether you're a man, a woman, or non-binary, pink can be significant to you. Soon enough there will be pink billboards lining highways and city streets.
Ally Godsil is a 16 year old artist and writer based in New Jersey. She has a passion for female written literature, social justice, poetry, and her cat.