7 brand colours you cannot use
- Mirka Pastierová ·
- 25459 views
Colours are not only important in branding, but also in consumer buying behaviour. 90% of spontaneous buying decisions are based on the choice of colour. That lies behind decisions of some companies to adopt a particular colour and has lead to long-standing legal disputes. Colour can itself be a brand and companies protect it by registering the colour as a trademark.
Can you guess which brands own the following colours?
Culte Chinese Red has been the colour of Louboutin luxury high heels since 1993. Louboutin has become famous itself for numerous litigation with other brands (including YSL) in order for only the soles of their shoes to be this unique colour. It was only after endless difficulties that Louboutin managed to register the colour in 2012.
Veuve Clicquot, the world's second-largest Champagne manufacturer, differs itself on the market by massive use of a yellow-orange colour. MHCS registered PANTONE 137C as a trademark for Nice Class 33, meaning no other alcoholic beverage manufacturer can use this colour anymore. This enabled MHCS to win a number of disputes with several brands, such as Spanish Cava Don Jaime and Malheur Brewery. And the yellow-orange shade remains, even after more than 135 years, the symbol of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
Tiffany Blue was created specifically for this great jewellery power. Pantone, which developed the colour, assigned it a special number - 1837, which happens to be the year Tiffany & Co was founded. You do not even find this trademarked colour in Pantone samplers. Tiffany uses Pantone 1837 on gift boxes and packets to be immediately recognisable.
Caterpillar tractors’ strong yello colour can be easily recognised from a distance. The colour is registered as a trademark under the name "Caterpillar Yellow" and can also be found directly in the Caterpillar company logo and other elements of the company's visual identity.
Help: Department store network
Target, a network of department stores with designed accessories and other products at affordable prices, uses a distinctive red colour which is embedded quite consistently and deliberately in its communication and clearly recognisable at its shops.
Help: Transport and logistics company
UPS first used its distinctive brown colour on its vehicles in 1916. What is interesting is that during this period, brown was perceived to be a very luxurious color.
Colour as a brand since 1985
No color can be registered as a trademark by any company. Otherwise, it would lead rapidly to a shortage of them. The colors mentioned above relate to very specific cases. Since 1985, a unique color can be registered in the US as a trademark. Before then, the status of a color as a brand had been rejected, although color combinations have always been protected. The change in perception was triggered by a case involving the Owens-Corning case, which had introduced a unique and singularly distinguishable product on the market - pink glass wool insulation.
The launching of this product was accompanied by a campaign called "Think Pink". In this case, a court in Washington approved the company's right to trademark its pink colour to prevent any competing firm from exploiting it. This shade of pink has virtually become a brand itself and even today it can be still connected to a specific product and manufacturer, while the colour itself no longer has any function.
What is a functional colour and why can I not register it?
There are many companies that cannot protect the colour they use. A frequent reason for disapproval of a colour with a certain function for a trademark is, for example, that the colour is functional. For instance, a company manufacturing mowers cannot own the rights to a shade of green because green is a functional colour symbolising grass, farmland, fields, and the like. That means any company can paint their machines green.
Tips and next steps
Think carefully about the use of specific colours to identify visually your company, service or product to avoid legal problems and unnecessary penalties. If you are not sure about the use of a particular colour or you are registering a colour as a trademark, contact a lawyer specialising in trademark law.
Mirka’s academic background is in cognitive science. She has published more than 60 articles in magazines, journals, book chapters and more. Mirka speaks at naming and branding at conferences and lectures at workshops aimed toward entrepreneurs and the start-up community.