Drugmakers are blind to colours, say researchers

By Alexandria Pešić

- Last updated on GMT

Drug manufacturers do not pay enough attention to the colour of their drugs, according to researchers examining the importance of aesthetics in pharmaceutical over-the-counter (OTC) products.

Researchers from the University of Bombay, India, claim a drug’s colour can influence patient compliance and increase brand loyalty, yet “surprisingly little attention is paid to the sensory attributes of a vast majority of dosage forms in the pharmaceutical industry.”

“Unfortunately,” ​they say, “a drug product’s aesthetic characteristics are not fully considered and utilised by many companies.”

Writing in the ‘International Journal of Biotechnology,’​ R.K. Srivastava and colleagues state that colours have the power to stimulate, excite or even depress, however the team admit this is dependent on a number of variables, including gender, age, religion and mood. Furthermore, colour associations and preferences vary across the globe.

Western Europeans, for example, associate the colour white with purity and happiness, whereas the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) relates the colour with death and mourning. In Anglo-Saxon countries the colour blue represents high quality, corporateness and masculinity, yet in Malaysia it is symbolic of cold and evil.

Despite such obstacles for drugmakers in selecting a universally well-liked colour, the researchers suggest an attractive colour - coupled with a healthy dose of the placebo effect - can help boost a tablet’s efficacy as well as possibly reducing side-effects.

More importantly, they argued, for those consumers who take more than one drug at a time, pills in assorted colours may help people recognise the difference between their medications more clearly. This “probably reduces accidental poisonings,”​ the researchers said.

Palatability influenced by colour

After questioning 600 users of OTC medications, the academics claim that colour is the most important memory tag for drug compliance for 75 per cent of consumers and that people’s palatability can be influenced by a drug firm’s choice of pigment.

The survey found that 14 per cent of people think pink tablets taste sweeter than red ones whereas yellow tablets are perceived to be salty. White or blue tablets taste bitter according to 11 per cent of those surveyed and 10 per cent said orange-coloured tablets are sour.

The study suggested that women prefer red pills while men like blue, however both genders favour white coloured tablets. Twice as many people aged between 55- 65 favour red tablets to those between the ages of 18-24 who would rather take pink pills.

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