Posted on behalf of kkanayama:
A recent High Court ruling granted Cadbury the exclusive rights to use the Pantone 2685C shade of purple to sell milk chocolate products. Perhaps inevitably, this has stirred some controversy online.
One major problem lies in the reporting rather than the decision itself. In its Art and Design section, the Guardian asks, ‘Should Cadbury be able to trademark the colour purple?’, which is a much more general – and loaded – question than ‘Should Cadbury be able to trademark a specific shade of purple in the design of its wrapping and packaging for milk chocolate?’
The first question casts Cadbury as the archetypal evil corporation, seeking to monetise something as natural and ubiquitous as the colours we see every day.
The short answer to the second question, by the way, is yes.
Certain colours have been associated with well-known brands for decades, and colour-coding offers an easy, quick way for consumers to determine whether a product is genuine.
Additionally, as the very same Guardian article points out, last month Christian Louboutin won a similar case against Yves St Laurent regarding the shade of red used on the soles of Louboutin heels. However, this lawsuit was settled in one year; by contrast, Cadbury’s initial trademark application was filed in 2004 and was only resolved last week.
Why so long?
Unpacking the answer to this leads to the second major problem.
As an American living in England, I’m often surprised at the scope of the British penchant for commercially-oriented nostalgia.
Any products that could possibly be associated with childhood – especially childhood that ended before the 90s – are viewed with a fierce protectiveness, and anything seen as sullying the memory of those products is the target of righteous fury.
(Admittedly, this also happens in America, but it’s usually confined to TV shows or films, particularly those with a somewhat niche market. When Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie hit cinemas, cries of ‘MY CHILDHOOD IS RUINED!’ rang throughout the Internet. However, no one is going to accuse McDonald’s of ruining their childhood by changing its Happy Meal packaging.)
Chocolate is a luxury as defined in childhood terms: food that isn’t necessarily nutritious, food that you can only obtain via the generosity of adults or frugal saving of pocket money, and most importantly, food that adults sometimes forbid you from eating.
This is where the pre-90s qualifier also comes into play; if you reached adulthood before 1990, chances are you or your parents came of age in Austerity Britain, and that the luxury of chocolate was even greater as a result.
In Britain, therefore, battles over chocolate packaging trademarks are fought not over the consumers we are now, but over the purchasing impulses of our idealised former selves (remember the outpouring of indignation that occurred when Kraft purchased Cadbury in 2010, based around the latter’s identity as a purely ‘British brand’).
That’s who’s really selecting the chocolate we eat, and I suspect that’s why Cadbury’s case took eight years to settle.