Can a brand “own” a color? While traveling on business recently, I actually had time to read the entire paper, from front to back. As a working mom of a toddler, a true luxury, I assure you.
Anyway, I was enthralled by an article that started with the question, “Can you trademark the color red?”.
As some of you may know, last year Christian Louboutin attempted unsuccessfully to stop YSL from selling red-soled shoes, claiming infringement of its “federally registered Red Sole Mark.” YSL shot back with “Dorothy is the original,” as in, The Wizard of Oz. Classy stuff.
More importantly, the court’s answer was essentially that color is functional, meaning that it is a tool to which all designers should have access. But, the article also goes onto say that Burberry’s famous plaid is theirs and theirs alone. A contradiction of terms…or is a pattern more “ownable” than a chinese red, the official shade of the red sole itself?
I would beg to differ on both accounts. Ask anybody to close their eyes and say the first thing that comes to mind when you say Target or Coke. Inevitably, they will say “red” over the bullseye or the bottle, right? That is because color is the most potent design tool at our disposal, deeper than symbol, deeper than pattern. It taps into emotions that most of us didn’t even know we had about,say, purple vs. periwinkle. Colors have universal meaning, cultural meaning, physiological reactions and yes, personal reactions. It is downright scary how many people choose a color in a professional arena, based on personal bias.
Anyway, let me ask again: Can a brand “own” a color and what exactly does that mean? The Louboutin brand has become equivalent with the red sole through their legacy and style, and the shoes have come to represent a key piece of the Wall Street power suit uniform. Below is a Louboutin and a YSL — which would you choose? Call me a purist, but I know the real thing when I see it.