Show your true colours

Pantone’s Color Institute has dubbed ‘Living Coral’ the colour we’ll all be using in 2019. With this in mind, Claire Baldwin analyses the importance of colour in the branding process and asks if a brand can really ‘own’ their colour?


Pantone’s Color Institute has dubbed ‘Living Coral’ the colour we’ll all be using in 2019. With this in mind, Claire Baldwin analyses the importance of colour in the branding process and asks if a brand can really ‘own’ their colour?

Pantone’s Color of the Year has set trends in many industries for the last 20 years, contributing to style decisions in everything from fashion to packaging.. 

Living Coral was chosen in response to our “continually shifting environment” and hints at embracing and regenerating our planet’s natural beauty. It’s been described as an “animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens”.


Colour in branding 

This all sounds very appealing, but be wary of jumping on the Living Coral bandwagon just because it’s the Color of the Year. Embrace it if you want to, but don’t overthrow your existing branding just to be trendy.

Colour is extremely important in branding, and consistent branding is key to creating a sense of trust and familiarity.

How many brands do you associate with the colour of their packaging or logos? Would you still recognise an ad for Coca-Cola if they used Living Coral instead of their signature red shade?

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Can brands own a colour?

 You might have heard of trademarking a colour, but do brands actually have any legal right to do so?

The answer isn’t completely black and white (forgive the colour pun) but, in short, the answer is yes … sometimes. 

For a long time, colour wasn’t seen as being distinctive enough to act as a trademark. This was resolved by the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Article 15(1), which expanded the legal definition of a trademark to include “any sign ... capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings”.

What this means is that where the colour (or combination of colours) is distinctive enough to distinguish the product or company from another similar product or company, the colour could be legally trademarked.

Companies may use similar colours without dispute if their products or services are unlikely to be confused. For example, the US department store Target uses a similar red to Coca-Cola, but the companies are different enough to prevent confusion.

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Colour wars

Disputes about trademarked colours pop up in the media from time to time, but they aren’t always easily solved. Here are a couple of examples.

Christian Louboutin vs. Yves Saint Laurent

In 2012, Christian Louboutin filed a case against Yves Saint Laurent for producing a red-soled shoe, claiming that the red sole is a trademark of their brand.

The US Federal Court of Appeals ruled that Louboutin’s trademark could only apply where the rest of the shoe was a colour other than red. This meant that YSL’s all-red shoe was not a trademark violation, but Louboutin could protect from future copycats.

Cadbury vs. Nestlé

 Cadbury trademarked their distinctive purple back in 1995 but this only covered “chocolate in bar or tablet form.” Cadbury sought to amend this in 2004 to cover products such as cakes and drinking chocolate.

The original phrasing of the trademark application read: “The mark consists of the colour purple (Pantone 2685C) ... applied to the whole visible surface, or being the predominant colour applied to the whole visible surface, of the packaging of the goods.”

Nestlé, who also use purple for some of their products, opposed the trademark, stating that Cadbury’s purple shade had no distinctive character and was too broad for a range of products.

The UK Court of Appeal overturned Cadbury’s trademark in 2013. They stated that in the phrasing of the trademark description, “being the predominant colour” was too broad and did not accurately define the mark.


Designing brand excellence

Your branding defines your business. It distills your company ethos, services and values into a cohesive look and feel that tells people who you are and what you’re about.

If you’re looking to make a change to represent a new era, or you need help creating a comprehensive brand from scratch, get in touch with us today.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Claire has over 10 years' copywriting experience across a range of print and digital media, working with a variety of styles, formats and tones of voice. She has written as part of an in-house team client side, as well as at marketing agencies based in the East Midlands. Claire's services include copywriting, copy editing, content creation and proofreading.