The Colour Purple
Following a four-year court battle with competitors, Cadbury recently won the right to trademark the purple it uses across the brand, most memorably perhaps on the wrapper for its Dairy Milk chocolate bars. In light of this news, you may ask what rules there are for designers, advertisers and others in the industry that are responsible for the creation of brand identity; website, packaging at al. Are certain colours off-limits from the start? Well, they are if you were planning to use the Pantone 2685C. Or as Cadbury calls it, ‘our famous colour purple.’
The impact of colour for the everyday consumer is huge and there can be no denying its power in a world that is so responsive to aesthetics. Throughout any given day, colours tell us when to stop and start, what bin to put our recycling in, and can even influence what products we walk towards and pick up in our local supermarket. For brands, it’s all part of providing a visual stimulus for prospective customers to help provoke a sale. But it’s also about building a recognisable identity and a positive reputation.
Even before entering a supermarket or newsagents you will subconsciously, first and foremost, be on the look-out for the colour of the product, rather than what it is called. When scouring the confectionery aisles for a Kit-Kat, I immediately search for the colour red. The same red that will be duplicated across the product’s website, social media pages and advertising campaigns – all with the intention of making that colour stick in the customer’s mind as exclusively ‘belonging’ to said brand.
Jumping on the bandwagon
Whether Cadbury needed any help standing out on the shelf or not, it has managed to create a unique product that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the supermarket. Why then, you may ask, aren’t particular colours being snapped up and ‘bought’ by every brand? Large supermarket brands for example have already curated a distinct colour identity, so this idea can be pretty redundant.
Angling competitors have little to gain from adopting the same colour of the product on the shelf next to it, although it is interesting to note that Cadbury’s trademark isn’t universal across the whole brand, but is restricted to a selection of products including chocolate bars and drinking chocolate. Nonetheless, using unique colours will inevitably create a stand-out product. Select a shade too close to that of your biggest competitor and you end up being part of one giant colour scheme, serving only to confuse would-be customers as to who you are and leaving your brand, quite literally, on the shelf.
Colouring outside the lines
The rules of colour and our perception of them have certainly evolved over the years. This is, in part, due to the influence of global brands who have taken colours previously restricted to a single notion, and opened them up to different receptive associations.
Traditionally a bold and futuristic colour, orange has had strong ties to value since brands such as brands easyjet used it. Furthermore, strong colours such as black and yellow that were conventionally considered an alert colour have now been adopted by sports brands to create a modern, cutting-edge look.
While the meaning of colour is always developing, there are some lessons that remain the same – particularly when considering how colours are paired together. For instance, a bright yellow will always benefit from being placed against a deep purple or navy blue in order to stand out and avoid looking washed-out. While breaking the rules and thinking outside the box is integral to being creative, one should still note the importance of traditional colour relativity and its context.
Trademarking a colour certainly isn’t for everyone and is probably best left to the big players who can chart a consistent use of the colour over time. Cadbury isn’t the first company to trademark a colour and probably, won’t be the last and the discussion the story has provoked is testament to the importance of colour to brands. Colour represents a brand’s history and tradition, and holds the key to its future as well.
Mark Stringer is the Creative Director and founder of Ahoy.