design | comment

design | comment

Trademarking colour gives brands the blues

A dispute between the parent company of T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, and an insurance company has started a debate over the trademarking of colour. Alison Rodwell, colour trend expert at James Cropper, asks if colour can be owned.

Cover image: Mino Surkala /

Last year

T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, challenged the use of its trademarked colour ‘Pantone Rhodamine Red U’, otherwise known as magenta. The claim was made against fintech startup Lemonade, and led to a debate over if colour can really be ‘owned’. But, perhaps we should also try to understand why a business would be willing to go the lengths of trademarking?

Let’s start with what we know: colour is critical to brand identity. A recent study showed that signature brand colours can have a tremendous impact on brand awareness, with 80% of consumers being able to identify Starbucks by its characteristic green straw alone.

And creative teams agree; 44% of designers who took part in James Cropper’s Progressive Palettes report said that colour is essential to creating effective brand stories.

Colour: critical to brand identity

While going to the lengths of trademarking might not be for everyone, you can understand the need to protect colour’s role in brand awareness. Take renowned crystal-maker Swarovski, luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co., and the emporium of British luxury Smythson, for example.

These brands have been uncompromising with their colours; preserving precious brand equity. They have made global uniformity of their brand colour a fine art by carrying relentless precision around the globe creating locations, packaging and products that carry a colour that single-handedly makes them some of the world’s most identifiable brands.

This unrelenting focus on colour is something we see every day at James Cropper. Companies invest significant time and money building equity around their signature colour palette and therefore want exact matches across all applications, including their papers and packaging.

Our Tailor Made team specialises in creating bespoke paper and packaging products, and has been tasked with colour-matching everything from a particular shade of red lipstick, to a piece of lace on a wedding dress. Our teams understand the importance of getting colour spot on, as well as the challenge involved in recreating colour on different fibre sources.

Colour really captures consumers’ attention

Using colour to communicate

By harnessing colour’s ability to evoke emotions, such as trust, happiness and quality, colour palettes can be a strategic way for brands to tell their story, using no words at all.

Take a look at James Cropper’s signature colour story, for example. In the middle ages, Kendal was home to a thriving wool industry, where one of the key materials used was a hard-wearing wool-based fabric called ‘Kendal Green’. As one of Kendal’s longest standing institutions, chairman Mark Cropper felt it essential that our company’s signature colour had an authentic provenance.

Our colour lab sourced the original pigments that were used to dye the fabric and were able to replicate that beautiful shade of green in paper to bring it back to life. Both unique and true to our roots, this colour now feels as personal to us as a fingerprint.

80% of consumers were able to identify Starbucks by its characteristic shade of green

The reason behind Deutsche Telekom’s decision to trademark ‘Pantone Rhodamine Red U’ is clear; colour really captures consumers’ attention and allows brands to communicate their stories through even a single hue.

However, colour is universal, and it could be argued that it can’t really be owned by one business over another. Brands with a relentless drive for a progressive palette across all touchpoints will naturally build and protect the brand equity that colour provides.

Eventually, brands will become recognised by the colour that, in the eyes of the consumer, is theirs.

Cover image: Mino Surkala /

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