Can You Trademark A Colour? Cadbury Secures The Rights To The Colour Purple

Last month Cadbury managed to secure a trademark for its signature purple colour after a lengthy battle with Nestle. The outcome means that Cadbury now has the exclusive rights to use its own distinctive colour on its confectionary items.

Cadbury is not the first company to seek a trademark in a colour. Their court victory closely follows Christian Louboutin’s successful trademark of the distinctive red it uses on the soles of its shoes, Heinz has a trademark in the turquoise colour used on its baked bean tins, and Orange has a trademark in, you guessed it, orange.  

Should a business be able to own a colour?

Some people are sceptical about whether companies should have the ability to own a particular colour, believing the idea to be ridiculous. However the idea is not as ridiculous as it might seem. Firstly, despite Cadbury’s successful trademark registration, it by no means ‘owns’ the colour purple. Rather it owns that particular creamy purple that is associated with Dairy Milk (Pantone 2685C) and even this only covers milk chocolate products and within this category, chocolate bars and tablets, chocolate for eating, and drinking chocolate.

Secondly, a company’s right to trademark a particular colour boils down to one very important factor- brand recognition. The whole purpose of a trademark is to protect the identifying signs that can help customers determine the origin of a particular good or service. A name and logo are obvious identifiers, but colours and even shapes can also become a unique distinguishing factor for a brand.

What can colour add to your brand?

In the case of Cadbury, the colour purple used on its packaging was hugely indicative of the company itself. Take for example one of its most successful adverts.

The advert is very simple, featuring a Gorilla beating the drums to Phil Collins’s ‘In The Air Tonight’. Despite the fact that the product itself does not get featured till the very end of the advert, the ad displays the trademarked purple as a backdrop in the studio set.

This use of the colour perfectly demonstrates, not only how Cadbury was trying to tie the colour to its product in the minds of its customers, but also how it was able to immediately evoke its own brand in people’s minds simply through the use of colour.  Through this it was able to create an advert that was unusual as it lacked any obvious attempts to sell a particular product, only subtle visual symbols, but that still drove customers to buy its product due to the lingering feeling of happiness the ad created which was associated with the Cadbury brand.

The use of colour and visual identities can really be a great communicator of a brand’s values and messages that speak without any need for words.

The importance of visual identity

Think about when you go to do your weekly shop at the supermarket as an example. What are you drawn by when you pick up your purchases? The visual image of a product often plays a really important factor in driving a customer to buy something.

As Brand Republic states, ‘[visual] brand identity is more than a corporate label, it is a neurological mnemonic that influences what we think and how we behave’ It cites how some people show a preference for Coca-Cola purely on packaging alone, when in a blind taste test these same people might find the taste of Pepsi to be preferable. Therefore colour, when put into context, can be powerful in its ability to draw customers to one particular product over another. (If you want to explore this topic in more detail the book Visual Hammer by Laura Ries (Kindle, 2012) is a useful read for understanding the interaction between visual and verbal communication.)

How well-known are these brands’ colours?

See for yourself if you can identify some of these trademarked colours. (Answers listed at the end of the article)

Can you tell which department store uses this green?

 

 

 

 

Which luxury brand uses this blue?

 

 

 

 

Or on whose home-supplies would you find this yellow?

 

 

 

 

How can you secure an unusual trademark?

However, trademarking a colour is by no means a simple procedure. Whilst it is relatively easy to secure a trademark in a name or logo, more unusual trademarks, such as colours, shape or music can be difficult to secure as you need to prove that the element in question is synonymous with your brand in the mind of your customers.

Although a brand is much more than purely a logo, colour or even a name- these are the identifiers that can carry certain associations in customers’ minds.

We will be writing in a future blog post about the difficulties of obtaining unusual trademarks, and how Coca Cola managed to trademark its iconic bottle.  In the meantime our 7 Mistakes Book gives some tips to help inform you how to make the most of intellectual property assets.  Even if you get just one idea from it, it could prove invaluable, so why not downloaded it here.

Answers: Green= Harrods; Blue= Tiffany; Yellow= Post-it

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