Branding With Color


When it comes to a business’s marketing strategy, there is nothing more important than color. In the world of packaging, color choices can make or break a product. If this sounds like designers trying to justify and glorify their trade, consider the landmark 1995 Supreme Court decision that deemed color such an important product brand identifier that a color alone can serve as a legally defensible trademark (Heath, 1997).

In the case of Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., Jacobson (a Qualitex rival) began to market
its product using a color that was similar to the color used by Qualitex since the 1950s. Qualitex, having registered its color with the Patent and Trademark Office as a trademark, filed suit to stop Jacobson from using the similar color on its product packaging. The Supreme Court sided with Qualitex, stating, “That a color alone can meet the basic legal requirements for use as a trademark” (U.S. Supreme Court, 1995).

The ultimate goal of a product marketer is to “own” a color in the hearts and minds of consumers. This brand color ownership occurs when a product can be identified by a specific color. Coca-Cola owns red as part of its trade dress, a legal term used when packaging identifies the brand (Parlin). Each category of products has brand leaders that own colors in the minds of the consumer market base. In the carbonated beverage category Coke owns red, Pepsi owns blue, Mountain Dew owns green (with some competition from 7up and Sprite), Dr Pepper owns dark red, and Barq’s root beer owns silver. In the cold cereal market Cheerios owns yellow, Frosted Flakes owns blue, Frosted Mini Wheats owns orange, and Raisin Bran owns purple.

Each category leader benefits from color ownership. When consumers encounter a supermarket shelf full of several different brands, they first look for the color of their favorite brand. Once the color is identified they move in closer to experience the individual brand’s packaging and information. Brands that do not own a color in the hearts and minds of their category’s consumer base are left trying to sell their product to the undecided, smaller group of customers that are not loyal to the leading brands.”