November 15

The Colour Purple

After a nine-year battle, Swiss chocolate-maker Nestlé has won the right to use a distinctive shade of purple in its chocolate-bar wrapping. A court rejected rival Cadbury’s nine-year effort to trademark the famous shade, snappily known as Pantone 2685C.

Nestlé doesn’t currently use this hue in its packaging, but the court ruling at least gives it the opportunity. This case raises an interesting point, because the phrase ‘Cadbury purple’ is widely used when discussing colours. So, are the colours companies use in their branding and logos as important as the design of the logo itself?

Take high-end jeweller Tiffany & Co, for example. Its iconic little blue box tied with a white ribbon has become synonymous with luxury and quality. Tiffany knows this, and has patented the ‘Tiffany blue’ colour and the trademark ‘Tiffany Blue Box’. So protective is the company of its blue boxes that it forbids any from leaving its stores unless they contain jewellery which has been sold. In fact, such is the demand from those hoping to pass off sub-standard jewellery as Tiffany’s that a black market for these boxes has sprung up.

Another example of where a colour has defined the brand is Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola began using the figure of Santa Claus in advertisements as early as the 1920s, and some believe that he wears a red coat because of the red Coca-Cola branding. This is actually an urban myth, but its wide currency is testament to the power of colour as branding. Like Tiffany, Coca-Cola has measures in place to protect its iconic red and white colour scheme. And it isn’t alone: UPS (brown), T-Mobile (magenta) and Veuve Clicquot (yellow) have all trademarked their preferred shade, arguing that any rival who chooses to use their colour scheme will diminish their brand.

Elsewhere, Starbucks’ use of a specific green colour has coined the phrase ‘Starbucks green’ and the phrase ‘the golden arches’ refers to the yellow hue of the big ‘M’ in ‘McDonald’s’. Arguably, the colours here have become as recognisable as the companies themselves.

Consumers can become so attached to their favourite product looking a certain way that any attempt to change it is met with disapproval or apathy. Do you remember the infamous Heinz green-tomato ketchup? Probably not, it was a bit of a flop…

Katy Fillingham, 15 November 2013