Thursday, 23 July 2015

Colour Wars

Is it acceptable for a brand to trademark a colour?Colour plays such an essential role in the identity of a brand. Think of the blue used in the Facebook logo, Caterpillars yellow or Home Depots orange. Then there's Coca Cola's red that's such a strong identity that it even managed to change the colour of Santa clause! But with this in mind, should these company's be allowed to own that specific colour?

The confectionary company Cadbury lost a five year court battle to register their distinctive shade of purple, Pantone 2685C. The company stated that they had been using the colour on their Dairy Milk bars since the first world war. Lawyers for rival company Nestlé, who use a similar colour on their quality street packaging, overturned a previous judgment that prevented other manufacturers from using the colour. In closing the judges claimed that the colour alone did not constitute as the trademark but instead only played a part with other elements.

The mobile phone provider T-Mobile fought a similar battle for it's shade of magenta and sent a letter to to cease using the colour on the lettering of it's mobile section.

My own personal thoughts on this discussion are that colour is an important part of any brand, but as with the Cadbury case, this is in relation to the typography, Imagery, shapes or graphic device that is also employed. It's only when you combine all these elements that you truly have a recognisable and successful brand mark. If someone is trying to pass off their goods or products with another's identity then surely that's wrong. For instance Christian Louboutin won the rights to trademark it's red heals. I strongly believe, that with any of these discussions, there needs to be an element of common sense and we cannot begin to cross off blocks from our Pantone books. I do agree that in certain situations a colour is an essential role of a company's identity and it's important for us not to confuse the term "trademark" as ownership, as it only allows a business to use a specific combination and shade of colour within it's own area of expertise.

I look forward to hearing any thoughts on this topic.

Unknown Creative Director / Author

Todd Anderson is an award winning British designer currently based in Cape Town, developing innovative brand and packaging solutions with a variety of clients; partnering with some of the world's largest retailers, alongside nurturing smaller companies just starting out.

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