April 22, 2018

The Demand for Tweetie Pie and Bob

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Some time ago I blogged about a curious overnight arrival in front of my house.

It was curious, partly because it was to stay there some time – and also because it was yellow. I checked the statistics and found that only about 0.4 per cent of new cars sold in 2010 in the UK had been yellow. And studies showed that yellow was the favourite colour for as little as 3 per cent of the population.

But that last statistic is also curious. Even though 3 per cent is a low number for many purposes, it is still more than seven times 0.4 per cent. Was there an underserved market segment here? Should manufacturers be ramping up the supply of yellow cars? Can we look forward to a growing population of yellow cars trundling through towns and villages and decorating the landscape?

I went back to basic economics and the answer I came up with to each of these questions was ‘no’, for reasons I go into below. I then forgot about yellow cars for a while until I saw an article on the BBC website this month: Why we love our yellow cars.

The article makes clear that yellow cars can generate intense emotions that may be reflected in the preferences of drivers and the reactions of observers (at this point I can sense the marketing peoples’ ears pricking up).

People can love them or hate them. I mean yellow cars, of course, not marketing people.

On the one hand, they can stimulate feelings of love and affection with some owners even giving them pet names (such as Tweetie Pie and Bob in the BBC article). Their visibility can apparently also make them safer to drive on the road and easier to find in a car park.

On the other hand, they can promote very negative reactions. In the extreme case covered by the BBC article this led to vandalism and damage to the market value of the unfortunate yellow car. And even if you like yellow, there could be possible difficulties in re-selling any Tweetie Pie or Bob on the second-hand market (as I noted in my original blog).

At the same time, the BBC article also shows that yellow car owners can see themselves as part of a community, which is reinforced by the growth of social media and the feeling of togetherness it can help to engender. In that case we might expect to see some recent growth in sales of yellow cars. And there is some evidence of that. Last year yellow cars crept into the top ten of most popular new car colours in the UK, see here.

But the other trend that was picked up by the survey of last year’s car sales was an 82.7 per cent increase in registrations for – wait for it – pink cars (admittedly from a low base).

Pink? Oh no, surely not!

You have to draw the line somewhere.