Mumbai: How different 2010 will be from 2005 will be, among other things, a function of how different pink is from blue. The year 2005 was a bright, bubblegum pink—a colour, now so five years ago. The new year will be tinted an airy, light blue, with possibly a purple patch held over from 2009 and speckles of green. It will offer “clarity and hope"—undercut with a stern reminder of our precarious ecology.

Graphics: Rahul Awasthi / Mint

This, at least, is the forecast of Freedom Tree Design, a Mumbai-based trend and colour consultancy. In the spirit of “reclaiming our planet, our colour blue is airy, optimistic—symbolizing new renewable energy, resources of water and air, and the free spirit," says Latika Khosla, Freedom Tree’s design director. “Purple, which represents the do-or-die spirit, will be a continuing story from 2009, along with green, which will be imperative in branding and corporate directive for companies that are looking to be more environmentally responsible."

Khosla holds the Asia-Pacific chair for the Colour Marketing Group (CMG), a 47-year-old international association of 1,100 designers who forecast colour trends for companies—a feat that is more science than art.

“Consultant companies…keep a finger on the pulse of markets in general. An in-house forecaster may not have the availability to track success across a variety of markets," says Jane Stockel, CMG’s special envoy to the Asia-Pacific region. “Companies need to be able to change quickly in reaction to forces beyond their control such as the global financial meltdown."

Colour forecasters make their predictions—often up to three years in advance—by exploring new products and technologies; trends in fashion, music and celebrity-wear; and economic and sociological influences. The forecasters then crunch this data into what their clients crave: Information about what colours will sell best. And it’s an important information; CMG research shows that colour can make for up to 85% of the reason people choose to buy a product.

In 2005, for instance, Khosla picked a hot pink, responding to a new emergence of girl power; the colour quickly spread across categories as diverse as sports, cars and cellphones. “Women were emerging as very strong decision makers… [They] were more confident about their femininity," she recalls.

The forecasts sound, in some way, like self-fulfilling prophecies: Predict a colour trend, convince enough companies of its inevitability, watch them flood the market with products in that colour and thereby make the trend come true. Amit Syngle, vice-president of sales and marketing at Asian Paints Ltd, insists that forecasts are as predictive as they are prescriptive.

“When our researchers and consultants come together to pick the colour trends for the year, they look at a number of social, economic and lifestyle trends," says Syngle. “So when we pick a palette of colour, we’re saying that these are the trends that we are expecting and here are the colours likely to match or complement this future trend."

Few forecasters are as specific as those at Pantone Llc., a renowned colour authority that has picked Turquoise 15-5519 as their colour for 2010. Instead, forecasters prescribe broad palettes of colour, to better cater to clients such as cosmetics manufacturers or coordinators of bridal ensembles. For instance, Lakmé, Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s cosmetics brand, subscribes to make-up forecasts from Paris and Milan, but it then assimilates these into directives for the Indian skin tone.

A palette also helps cycle regularly through fashionable colours; LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd introduces two or three new colour variants every six months. When shrewdly chosen, a colour can even bump a product into a premium category, worthy of aspiration, such as LG’s Scarlet and Jazz range of burgundy-coloured electronics. “At the higher end, we have darker colours and finishes, which make the product look very chic and premium," says Charu Khilnani, LG India’s chief designer. “Mass market products tend to lean towards brighter and more vibrant colours."

But not everybody buys into the value of colour forecasts. “I wouldn’t undermine the importance of colour forecasts, especially for brands that export to global markets, where there is some rigidity (in seasonal colours)," says Nachiket Barve, a Mumbai-based fashion designer. “But I think it’s limiting to expect everyone to love that one colour. Why should I be a conformist and let someone tell me I should be some XYZ orange?"

In India, aesthetics tend to be driven more by the Bollywood, says Sujata Keshavan, managing director for Ray + Keshavan| The Brand Union. “You can forecast whatever you please, but if Kareena Kapoor is wearing hot pink, so will everyone else. It will become the prevailing, preferred trend," she says. Keshavan strongly believes that colour forecasting is “nonsense" in the Indian context. “India is simply too large and heterogenous a population for a set of people to determine colour preferences."

Would a bland blue even make an impact in a country that gravitates towards the warm tones of reds, browns and pinks? The light blue is “a simple colour, but you’ll be astonished to see how it makes its way into industries, products and services", says Freedom Tree’s Khosla. She maintains that while brands may choose to embrace drastically different colour stories, the airy blue will find some representation. “The question is: Can they afford to miss an important colour direction?" she says. “I seriously doubt it. Just like you need a business plan, you need a colour plan."