The ultimate brand narcissism: marketers that think they “own” a color are high on their own fumes.

October 30, 2014


A flash in the Internet pan…

Back in the days of dial-up, I worked on the Earthlink account. As you may recall, Earthlink was, and maybe still is, an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Based in Atlanta, created by a funky rich dude, for a moment in time they actually were a brand to be reckoned with; but alas, for a number of reasons, that moment was doomed to pass. And it did.

However, this post is not about Earthlink’s business model or the advertising we did for them.

Rather, my story is about the color orange. Because of Halloween, orange is ubiquitous come late October. It is especially so in the Bay Area (where I live) on account of the San Francisco Giants playing in, and winning, the 2014 World Series. Their team colors are orange and black, just like Halloween. As fate would have it, the parade for the champion Giants will be on October 31st. Market Street will be a sea of orange and black.


Orange you proud to be a Giant’s fan?

Go back 15 plus years, late 90’s, and the marketing team from Earthlink is briefing my team and me. They were good people and we were delighted to be helping them –even if, in the coming years, Big Cable and the computer companies were going to eat them for lunch…

Anyway, we were discussing expectations and mandatories for our as of yet un-created campaign. Here is when the CMO uttered a sentence I will never forget. She says, “Steffan, we own the color orange.”

“Um,” I said back to her, “Don’t you think orange belongs to Halloween?”


Orange belongs to Jack…

I wasn’t being a dick. I knew what the CMO meant. Yes, the Earthlink logo had orange in it. Sure, orange was a featured color in their brand guidelines. But I was resolute. Earthlink could not possibly…and would not ever…own the color orange. A national holiday or a major sport’s team can own a color. Just ask Christmas about green and red. Or the Green Bay Packer’s about green and gold. Orange (and black) means Halloween. And to a lesser extent, the San Francisco Giants. End of story.

Let’s be fair. The Earthlink folks are not the first marketers to think their particular brand walks on water. Most CMO’s and their get act as if the companies they work for are magical places of wonder and that their logos are iconic. Some brands can make a better case than others on “owning” certain equities. Coca Cola and the color red for example. But even that’s a push. When I see red I think of many other things before thinking of Coke. Don’t you?

Regardless, there’s no way on earth a fussy baby brand like Earthlink could ever lay claim to such an idiosyncratic color like orange. And so I have come to love/hate the brand narcissism prevalent in our industry. Having done my share of guidelines I get the pretense but it never fails to get my goat.


3 Responses to “The ultimate brand narcissism: marketers that think they “own” a color are high on their own fumes.”

  1. Gauer said

    I remember that meeting well, only few years later working on pain relief brand they told me they own blue. In my best way the express this as my mentor Steffan would have. I said “I’m sorry but the sky owns blue”

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