Corporate Naming: Are Customers Really Color Blind?


By Mr. Naseem Javed
Posted Mar 8th, 2005

Contrary to branding beliefs, customers don’t really care and are completely oblivious about soaking of a total image of a corporation in a very specific color.

ORANGE Mobility, a British mobile phone company of France Telecom, is one of the largest telephone players in Europe. Just to make their point, as a gimmick, painted an entire town in England orange.

Now, Orange mobility, fully drenched in the color orange, is asking courts to disallow Easymobile, a new mobility service the use of the color orange. This is a division of Easygroup and they too have been soaked in orange for over a decade as a part of their preferred color. The founder of Easyjet, a high profile entrepreneur Haji-Ioannou, of Easygroup, will fight back, claiming his corporate right to use the color orange as a branding strategy. Is this all easy for the easy fellows or tough to win? Now a colorful fight breaks out while the arguments all end up in a punch bowl.

Can the great teams of lawyers claim such exclusive rights and attempt to convince the courts? Yes. But in reality you can’t own the exclusive global rights to a specific color. In the long run and at the end of the rainbow, a single corporation can’t own trademark rights to a single color, just like a single number or a single letter of the alphabet. Imagine if only Ford was allowed to have blue painted cars. “Blue is mine and nobody would dare to use it”. Or if the number seven exclusively belonged to Walt Disney, that’s it. Now there is nothing between 6 and 8″ Similarly are the alphabets, “W” is only for Westinghouse? Come let’s join the fight.

Think of blue and what comes to mind is a blue ocean. A blue sky? Sometimes Big Blue, which is IBM. Once they truly acquired a secondary meaning and a legendary position of being recognized as such. After all it was a great army in blue suits pushing forward the towering blue mainframe computers. This is a very small chapter in long history of branding where this corporation was recognized by a single color. Today blue is the most common color used in corporate business and liberally used by all types of technology companies. This is why DELL Computer’s logo and many thousands of other computers related businesses are all in blue. IBM never went to court on this issue.

This fight has two issues; one, the use of the word, orange and two, the use of the color of the same fruit. The tie of the two together makes a unique combination, but not a guarantee for a global restriction to use the orange color by anybody else in telephony. Orange Mobility will have a nightmare if they decided to go global. They know it well. Like a bank called Tomato in Japan, also using the word along with a designated red color. But can Tomato bank stop all banks in Japan from using the color red? No. The reasons this issue is going to court are two. One, an overly fruity branding and the other, the overly-zealous legal wits.

“Fatal indigestion for elephants!”

The odd origin of the word ‘Orange’ comes from “naga ranga” in Sanskrit. According to a Seventh Century B.C. incident, recorded in the etymological journal. Apparently, one day an elephant was passing through the forest, when he found a tree unknown to him in a clearing, bowed downward by its weight of beautiful, tempting oranges; as a result, the elephant ate so many that he burst. Many years later a man stumbled upon the scene and noticed the fossilized remains of the elephant with many orange trees growing from what had been its stomach. The man then exclaimed, “Amazing! What a naga ranga (fatal indigestion for elephants)!” Now how about some Le Duck-AlOrange

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky.

Decades ago, in the age of technological scarcity, to be identified by a specific color or even called by that name were considered a great Corporate Image coup. Today, it has no value, while big corporate identity firms have clearly run out of unique, powerful names, they are now desperately trying to support weaker and poor names with a specific color theme as a calling device to identify a corporation. Corporate Identity, by a single unique color, that is. With red, blue and yellow as primary colors how far can you go in reminding customers to differentiate among 100 million brands. Will “Pink Magenta” or “Dark Cherry Black” be the new highly exclusive and protected corporate colors? In this scenario courts will be swamped over the slight change in a shade or a tint. May be great for a short publicity stunt and some huge legal cost but practical no.

Use of colors is our right, claiming exclusivity is dumb.

“What Can BROWN Do For You Today”? Brown is a new calling device for UPS, the United Parcel Service,. ‘BROWN makes me happy’ Really? Recently, Pepsi introduced a blue colored soft drink in a Pepsi bottle called Pepsi Blue. Maybe as a counter attack to Vanilla Coke, a dark colored coke with vanilla flavor. Unfortunately to some, Pepsi Blue looks more like Windex or 2000 Flushes. The marketing of blue fluids has often been associated with sanitation products, even when it comes to mouthwashes, like Clorox and Listerine in Blue. There are also blue, green and purple Ketchup these days. So what’s next?

Yellow is considered for the soft at heart and the timid, but then there are the useful YELLOW PAGES. Also YELLOW FREIGHT, a gigantic freight company of strong men on the super highways. Call YELLOW, we’re so mellow. Who knows?

Green thoughts are often for money, grass and vegetables. Sometimes, for The GHOSTBUSTERS or THE GREEN PARTY, which is for the environment, and flushed with green money. H&R Block, the tax preparing giant, is now clinging to a green block as their image and their exclusive color. Perhaps they want be recognized as a Green Bloch [sic]. Henry Bloch, correctly picked the name of his company as H&R Block to avoid spelling and pronunciation problems, when appeared as a spokesperson with his correct name, caused confusion and to correct the whole thing he simply changed his own name to Block. Well done, consumer thanks you for this easy spelling of Block, Mr. Bloch.

The use of color as a name or to identify a corporation is far too stretched. The customer, at large, is somewhat color blind to these branding tactics. It’s already recovering from the awkward, dumb, and at times, obscene names from the wild branding era of the last dot.com bubble. PurpleFrog; PurpleCow; PurpleDog; PurpleRhino; all the way to BlueFrog, BlueCow, BlueDog; BlueRhino, etc. etc. These poor animals were subjected to so much verbal abuse and named in just about every color of the rainbow, almost creating possible strikes at local zoo.

The customer cannot be motivated to a branding surge by coming across a specific color. Imagine, every time you come in contact with the color brown, wouldn’t you prefer to think of a chocolate bar, rather than calling UPS or hugging one of their delivery guys on the road. Every time you see green do you really think of money, IRS or just grass?

If naming corporations by color is really that important, then perhaps a lot of corporations should simply be called RED; red in embarrassment, blushing or simply for bleeding too much red ink. PINK, if cleared by SEC. and ROSEY, if on the rebound.

Logos and big color schemes are the things of the past yet they are more used for packaging designs; unfortunately colors are only few and part of our daily life. Today in this e-commerce age where everyone is forced to TYPE and to remember the names with absolute correct spellings, big branding campaigns only hurting themselves with their old fashioned, one-side painted colorful advice. They must all re-converge and re-group and re-align their thinking to cope with this name driven economy.

Best for now, leave the pretty colors of the rainbows in the sky, alone.

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Mr. Naseem Javed is the author of Naming for Power, and is recognized as a world authority on global name identities and domain issues. He introduced The Laws of Corporate Naming in the 80s and is the founder of ABC Namebank, a naming consultancy he established in Toronto, a quarter century ago. Mr. Javed lectures and conduct executive workshops on global corporate image and name identity issues. For more information, contact Mr. Javed at: ask@njabc.com. http://www.abcnamebank.com


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