The Blue Nail Puzzle

A Study In Virility

The Blue Nail Puzzle

It’s sandal season. I’ve been trying to understand why so many women are wearing blue nail polish this summer. It feels as if, all of sudden, everyone got the word and embraced a new color palette. Do you ever wonder how things get popular and reach scale quickly?

I suspect that the rapid emergence and widespread embrace of new things is not a random accident in nature. My hunch is that there are repeatable factors that bring attitudes, ideas, colors, and products from the fringes into the mainstream. Marketers are continuously searching for this formula, and fantasizing about this kind of virility, which requires the right combination and weighting of factors.

Here’s my hypothesis:

Start with the familiar.

Nail polish is part of many women’s regular health and beauty routine. It’s a “me time” activity that is an opportunity for pampering and self-expression. The core need and behavior patterns are set and scaled. Introducing a new color is a variation on a theme, not something new or different. Starting with established patterns is probably a good springboard for launching something new.

Build on preferences.

Blue is the most popular color among women. It has a range of hues (from electric blue to baby blue) and a range of emotional triggers, which enable individuals to customize their participation in a larger phenomenon. Essentially, you can be like everyone else, but on your own terms.

Become the next big thing.

Everyone is looking ahead seeking the next cool thing. Womens' magazines specialize in setting a broad expectation that there will be something new and cool each season. This primes the pump. We all want to be with it and on it. For some, being a step ahead of the crowd is of their personality and style. Yet, even late adopters have a hunger to be part of current trends.

Leverage FOMO

The flip side of being in the know is fear of missing out. Nobody wants to be left behind or be out of step. We are temperamentally disposed to being part of communities. Fear of missing out and fear of standing out can drive adoption of rising trends.

Multi-Point Ignition

The biggest mystery is how these trends get started. In some cases, it’s the emergence of a new or innovative product. It's possible that after widespread use of pink, reds and blacks nail colors the availability of a blue spectrum was a huge turn-on.

A prime suspect is Pantone, the authority on color and color systems. They predict the hot colors of each season and each year. They set the color agenda for designers of all stripes and have been a trusted color intelligence source within the creative community for decades.

But who lit the match and who fanned the flames? Did the Avon, Chanel, L’Oreal and others stimulate the market with new products and splashy ads, or was it the forecasts and images in Vogue, Elle, Cosmo and Harper’s Bazaar? Or did the echo promotion by bloggers, style commentators, and fashionistas prompt virility? Was it widely celebrities wearing blue nails on the red carpet or did heavy retail couponing and promotion spark broad scale action?

These factors in combination, either synchronized and orchestrated or just in-market simultaneously, can begin to explain the growth of awareness and demand at scale. Luck context and timing also play a role since there are many new colors, products, looks, and attitudes that never achieve lift-off.

Mobilize WOM

Word of Mouth communications sustain and extend new phenomena. Women talk to each other and share likes and dislikes constantly. Women rely on each other for social and fashion cues. Women dress for each other and drive awareness and demand for the vast majority of products and services. So getting women talking about an idea, a color or a product, face-to-face or on social media, feels like a critical marketing objective to accelerate any new trend.

Dissecting the elements seems easy. Understanding the interplay, timing and impact among them still is a mystery. Orchestrating a campaign, where the success formula probably varies by category and brand, is a great challenge. And so blue nails are ubiquitous this summer!

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Danny Flamberg
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