What Every Brand Can Learn from 2013’s ‘Color of the Year’

Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2013 is emerald green, and honestly, I’m a little disappointed.

We’ve written about a different kind of green on this blog before, but now it’s time to discuss the literal color, 2013’s shade of which – according to Pantone – represents “elegance and beauty” and “enhances our sense of well-being, balance and harmony.” It’s a color that’s been described as “sophisticated,” “stylish,” “natural,” and “fresh.”

How about “meh?”

Maybe I’m just jealous I didn’t see it coming first, but emerald green honestly doesn’t strike me as the color matching our current zeitgeist. The color Pantone picked last year, tangerine tango, felt like a bold statement at the time, embodying a necessary energy and heat that the worlds of marketing and design seemed to be lacking. Emerald green, on the other hand, looks about five years too late.

All of which isn’t to say that I think emerald green is ugly. Like any color, it’s all about context, and choosing the right color to match an idea is difficult—but important—work. From a branding perspective, the colors you choose to represent your brand are often its most recognizable element: think of Dunkin’ Donuts’ orange and purple, UPS’ brown, or BP’s yellow and green. Colors have associations—learned and unlearned—and smart brands know how to take advantage of consumers’ subconscious preferences, as well as when to innovate.

Whether you’re creating a new identity or thinking of rebranding, be aware of the colors most often associated with your brand’s industry, and ask yourself what kind of statement you want your brand to make. My advice for the next year: Don’t go with emerald green. Why?

It sends the wrong message

While for some, the color may stand for healing and renewal, emerald green is also the hue of the central city in the Wizard of Oz, a place known for exclusion, shallowness, and illusory wealth. Emerald green is chintzy. It’s loud. It’s the color of money, prom dresses, and couches from the ‘70’s.

Historically, it’s the color associated with arsenic poisoning, as emerald dye in Europe and the Americas was chemically unstable  for much of the 19th century. Emerald socks, dresses, and wallpaper were common sources of disease until a synthetic green replaced the dye in the 1870’s—not exactly “healing.”

It’s ubiquitous

Emerald green is everywhere. It’s abundant in the natural world, from the leaves of trees to moss growing on mountains to seaweed washed up on the beach. It’s also the color of the Christmas tree you just hauled out of the house.

Besides its place in nature, emerald green has taken the branding world by storm. As the aforementioned go-to color for brands looking to extol their environmental efforts, green is fast losing its significance. When everything is green, nothing is.

It’s safe

Emerald green is a classic color for apparel, cosmetics, accessories, cars, and jewelry. We’re used to seeing it year-round, especially in March and May, and as a metaphor for the year, doesn’t say much about what separate this year from any that came before it. Case in point: 2010’s Color of the Year, turquoise. How different are the two?

Every business sector has its own “emerald green:” That color that manages to somehow blend in and look unpleasant at the same time. Don’t believe the hype. Choose a color for your brand that reflects not only your brand’s personality, but its awareness of its environment. Together with the right messaging, products, and customer experience, your color of choice will become synonymous with your brand.

Look for more of our thoughts on colors, including our own personal pantones, in upcoming posts.

Post Date
February 6, 2013
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