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What’s in a Name?



Color names do have an effect on the popularity of a paint. The right name will give the paint a personality and help consumers connect with it.



By Kerry Pianoforte



Published August 9, 2005
Related Searches: Color

When choosing a paint color, most customers will find it easier to remember a catchy name such as ocean splash than an impersonal number. Paint companies realize the importance of naming paints and carefully consider the name of each color.


Names vs. Numbers
"Studies have shown that color names are more easily identified with and remembered than number notations," said Kathy Henry a marketing communications coordinator for ICI. "We believe naming colors helps customers to personally identify with our colors and make them their own, which ultimately sells paint. You may have difficulty immediately recalling the notation 35YY81/174, but would probably find it easier to remember (the name) champagne sparkle for that perfect shade of yellow."

"The consumer can have a positive relationship to a name as opposed to a number. When they need to select a color, the positive impact of the name may influence the customer in the final selection of the color," stated Andrea Piontek, color specialist, PPG Industries.

There are a variety of factors to consider when choosing a name for a paint color. Customers will rely on the visual impression of the paint first and foremost, but most paint companies agree that the name of the color is quite important as well. From a practical standpoint it makes sense to name new paint colors to differentiate between similar colors from different product lines and avoid confusion.

"A color name associated with a color does help sell the color, since color names can elicit a feeling of emotion," said Ms. Piontek. "Names are given to colors to evoke not only an emotional response, but should also be a description of the color based on the hue, value and chroma but that may not always be possible. It also helps if the name of the color has a pleasant thought association, so that it will have a positive impact to the consumer."

Color names are chosen for a variety of reasons including the target consumer and geographic location. Patricia Verlodt, president of Color Services and Associates, Inc., a color consulting service that focuses on identifying color trends and naming colors for paint companies, agrees that naming paints gives them a personality. She says that the most popular names for paint are derived from food, nature and places.

"Oftentimes, I name colors after things that will remind people of pleasant things (such as) food, flowers and things that are natural. I name a lot of colors after cities in the U.S., rivers and parks." Ms. Verlodt noted that most color systems have up to 1500 colors in them and each one needs a unique, descriptive name. The key to coming up with an appropriate name is knowing who your target audience, whether it be by age, sex or geographic location.

"Beyond the off-whites, we see differences in popular colors throughout the country," said ICI's Ms. Henry. "Some of our very southern states are more adventurous and prefer bright, fresh colors, whereas our New England states choose historical or colonial colors to compliment their prevailing architecture."

Ms. Henry also noted other factors that can effect color trends. "During times of recession and general pessimism, we see grayed tones as seen in our calm collection. We will see brighter tones during periods of optimism," she said.

Many paint companies group colors together into themed collections that try to target a specific consumer group.

"For instance, a basic line of ready to mix paints for contractors would probably be given very generic names that would easily be recognized like antique white, ceiling white, taupe, etc," said Tami Ridgway, marketing stylist, Valspar. She explained that these basic colors are given the same names to avoid confusion. "A line of decorator colors for an interior paint would be named with more thought involved," Ms. Ridgway continued. "We may choose names that relate to current lifestyle or decorating trends such as urban white or choose an overall theme and try to relate all the names to it, such as a vacation or resort theme."


History Repeats Itself
When naming color collections, many companies use historic themes, due to their popularity.

Ms. Verlodt of Color Services noted, "We do make a concerted effort to research the colors when we do a historical palette so that we don't name a color that wouldn't be used in that era or wouldn't be used in that particular design style."

The new American Tradition palette from Valspar has 140 colors named after various National Trust sites such as Wilson House and Lyndhurst. The result is a palette of paint colors certified by the National Trust which provide homeowners with a wide spectrum of historic hues such as Woodrow Wilson presidential white, Lyndhurst duchess blue and Woodlawn juniper.

Pittsburgh Paints, a line of paints from PPG Industries, also offers a historic color collection. Names such as gunmetal gray, twig basket and spice delight were carefully chosen to fit the historic look of the colors.

Martin Senour Paints' Williamsburg collection contains historically-inspired names such as Raleigh Tavern peach, Wythe House gold and Bracken Tenement blue slate.

On the Pittsburgh Paints "Voice of Color" chip racks, there are side panels that illustrate six different themes that help consumers select colors. The themes include warm welcome tones, hushed tones, elegant tones, playful tones, tranquil tones and rugged tones. Paints in each grouping are given appropriate monikers. The hushed tones collection contains a subtle hint of color and the names-evening mist, first light and glistening frost-elicit such feelings. Playful tones contain whimsical names such as rubber duckie and sweet pea, while the rugged tones collection contains outdoor-inspired names such as spiced cider, flint gray and ashen.

ICI's color palette is divided into mood collections. The collections include vibrant, fresh, warm and calm. "Each color name has been chosen to invoke the mood of its collection," said Ms. Henry. The vibrant collection contains the colors fireworks, blazing star and majestic; the fresh collection contains cotton candy, peach sorbet and June bug; the warm collection is comprised of candle glow, desert warmth and cozy light and calm includes whisper, cascading water and falling rain.


Beware of Coral Green
Companies must be careful when naming paints. Just as the perfect name will help sell a certain paint, an inappropriate name can have a detrimental effect on sales.

"We found that bad names keep colors from selling well," commented Ms. Verlodt of Color Services. "Colors that are inappropriate or don't fit the color confuse people. I had a customer who named a color coral green. Coral isn't green and it confused people because they couldn't figure out what color green it was."

While historical names are popular, not every name has a long life span. When golds and greens recently regained popularity, they were not given names such as harvest gold or avocado green due to the negative impact of the names of similar colors from the '70s.

"The gold and green family couldn't make it back into market under those names," said PPG's Ms. Piontek. "The association to the old names was poor, so they were released using different names and they did gain popularity in the consumer market. In the Pittsburgh Paints brand, the gold was given the name golden field-associated with the great outdoors-quite the opposite of the living room shag. And avocado needed a link with something fresh and new, so it was named autumn fern."

Ms. Ridgway of Valspar also noted the importance of picking the right name. "If you are to choose between two similar taupes and one is called sludge and the other vintage oak, which one would you rather paint your den with?" she asked. "The color has to sell itself, but when there are so many color choices available, a good descriptive name can add to the attractiveness of the color."


While trends in colors and their names change from year to year, certain colors and their names have become classics. Many of the companies that Coatings World spoke with identified whites and off-whites as the most popular color.

"Eighty percent of the colors sold are white or some type of off-white. Even when trends change, white is still popular," said Ms. Piontek. "Color names such as off-white and Navajo white have been available in not only our color system, but competitive systems, for as long as I can remember. Consumers feel comfortable with the names and the colors associated with them."

"Many of the off-whites, such as Swiss coffee, Stowe white, shell white, antique white and off-white have remained a part of our color palette for several years," added Ms. Henry of ICI.


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