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The colour purple

5 October 2012
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How much does colour matter to brands? An enormous amount if this week’s Cadbury’s trademark ruling on the use of Pantone 2685C or ‘Cadbury’s purple’  is anything to go on. After a four year fight, Cadbury’s owner Kraft have emerged victorious with the court siding with them that rival Nestle can’t use the colour. For Cadbury’s, who have used the colour on its product’s packaging since it was founded in Birmingham back in 1824, the purple has a regal association  which backs up the brand’s positioning as ‘the king of chocolate’.

This month is also Breast Cancer Awareness month and an unfeasibly large number of products have appeared in pink; I can now buy beetroot and horseradish dip, special pink bouquet of flowers, a filofax, make up, cup cakes, a huge variety of different pink outfits and even a soda stream. The campaign will certainly raise awareness and vital funds but hasn’t really managed to own one distinct shade of pink, as the products and partners have chosen their own shades of the colour.

Perhaps the best example of a charity brand owning a colour is Macmillan’s green which successfully permeates every aspect of their brand, marketing and fundraising. On their website Macmillan states “When people think ‘green’, we want them to think ‘Macmillan’ – or vice versa, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s green.”  This has been so effective that other charities often brief their creative team and agencies to steer well clear of the colour.

With charities competing for hearts and minds being easily recognised gives a brand the edge over their competition. Colours also invoke specific feelings and associations with your audience. Green arguably links them to medical setting, and is a calm, strong, living colour. Macmillan may not consider its colour worth trade marking but there is no doubt it is a valuable asset to the charity.

However both for-profit and not-for-profit brands would be wise to remember that a brand is more than a logo and a colour. What you say and do as an organisation is just as much a part of the brand, as the visual aspects. So what does Cadbury’s legal battle say? Perhaps that they dominate the market, have a strict uniformity and are deeply concerned with protecting their brand. This is at odds with the fashion for consumer interaction, sharing and encouraging user generated content.

For charities like Macmillan, trade marking a colour would send out the wrong message. Charities are ultimately about people and their individual needs. Presenting a uniform corporate look, and taking the aggressive legal action would create distance from the people the organisation most wants to engage; beneficiaries, donors, funders and volunteers. As some in the voluntary sector are debating the differences between charities and business (e.g. this Institute of Fundraising debate on LinkedIn ) charities should remember that there are important reasons for some of these differences, and what is best for business, might not follow as best for charities.