I have a confession. I’m obsessed with colors. Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking. “Occupational hazard. After all, you’re an art director, right?” Fair enough. However, I’m not talking about your garden-variety professional fascination. I’m talking a full-on “drawer-full-of-paint-chips, collector-of-swatch-books” passion for color. Before you start firing off an email to the producers of “Hoarders,” let me assure you I weed out my paint chip drawer from time to time…although I suspect I still have swatch books for paints that long ago ceased production. (If you’re looking for a vintage Kmart “Martha Stewart Everyday Colors” swatch book, I’ve got you covered.) 

My obsession with color began in my youth when I worked retail and had to memorize the whimsical names given to the colors in each new line of clothing. It wasn’t tan, it was “Sand Dollar” or “Onion Peel.” And green wasn’t green, it was “Asparagus.” I found myself giving a lot of thought to the subject of color-naming this spring, as I spent the lockdown repainting every room in my house.

As I dove into selecting various hues for my bedroom, kitchen and every other conceivable space, I found myself drawn to colors based on their names. At one point, I was torn between four different grey paints. I taped the swatches to my wall and pondered which was best suited to the room. In the end, I chose the one titled “Sunday Stroll.” Does it look much different from the other three greys? No. I just liked the way it sounds. The name strongly influenced my choice because it evoked an emotional reaction in me. Another purchase, a paint called “Vine-Ripened Tomato,” has yet to adorn anything in my house. I just loved the name so much, I had to buy it. I’ll find a home for it eventually.

As I explained my fascination to a co-worker, her mind immediately went to her favorite movie, “Steel Magnolias” and a particularly humorous scene in which Shelby (Julia Roberts) gushes about her wedding colors – blush and bashful – only to have her mother (Sally Field) dismissively refer to them as “pink and pink.”

I had to learn what went into the color-naming process, so I Googled it. I learned that inspiration for color names can come from pop culture, food, nature, or just about anywhere. The idea is to give a color personality and evoke an emotional response from the consumer. While marketers are often surprised when names like Smoky Trout, Fashionista, or Intellectual prove popular, they are all too aware that a poorly chosen name can doom even the most appealing color. Think about it. You wouldn’t paint your child’s room “Hooker Red.” You’re far more likely to opt for “Cherry Cola” or “Candy Apple,” even if the shade is exactly the same.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. The process of paint-naming is all about creating a brand voice and brand personality. The methodologies are the same as in any other type of marketing. The people who lavish fabulous names on even the most basic paints are employing the power of words and imagery to differentiate their product from their competitors’ offerings. It’s all about creating a connection, telling a story, and evoking an emotional response. It’s not an arbitrary thing. There is a process that goes into it.

We take the same approach when engaging in branding exercises with clients. We routinely assign names to a collection of colors or singular colors within a palette because it reinforces the brand personality and message. When presenting to a client with a focus on reclaiming and repurposing, for example, we might assign a name like “Succulence” to the palette we show them. As with cleverly named paint colors, this very conscious approach serves to differentiate an offering by conveying there is something special about it.

Is your marketing grey or more of a Sunday Stroll? Would you like to take your brand from red to Vine-Ripened Tomato? At Chartwell Agency, we bring brands to life with words, imagery, and color.