More and more companies are competing to claim attention and influence by announcing their own official color of the year.
Twenty years ago, the Pantone Color Institute began a tradition that’s become ubiquitous across the paint industry: The Color of the Year. Equal parts trend forecasting and marketing craze, the Color of the Year program elevates a single color to demigod status. The company’s first selection, in 1999, was Cerulean. “Lifestyle movements suggest that consumers will be seeking inner peace and spiritual fulfillment in the new millennium,” the company announced.
Over the past two decades, many other color and paint companies have followed Pantone’s lead, naming a Color of the Year they feel encapsulates not only where the world is, but where it’s going. “We view the Pantone Color of the Year as an educational program that is intended to highlight the relationship between what is taking place in our global culture and how it manifests itself in color,” says Laurie Pressman, VP of the Pantone Color Institute.”With color and context so intertwined, there really are reasons why a color family or individual color comes into prominence when it does, and for the most part the popularity of a color is symbolic of the age we are living in.”
Announcing a color of the year also helps these brands speak directly to consumers, whether they’re people buying paint at Home Depot or designers looking for trend forecasting as they develop new products. The latter is more important than you might imagine, in the $24 billion paint market. In a New York Times piece on color’s significance in culture, Bruce Falconer offers a glimpse at the influence of Pantone’s research. “Color forecasters like Shah and his team at Pantone have tremendous influence over the visible elements of the global economy—the parts of it that are designed, manufactured, and purchased—though their profession itself is all but invisible,” he writes.
Most companies begin researching a couple years in advance, visiting trade shows to see what’s happening in retail and following the lifestyle trends of trusted influencers on social media. But they also depend on intuition and experience to make their forecasts. Pressman says the Pantone team stays “on the lookout for the color we see as ascending, and seems to be building in importance across all areas of design—the one color that is really pushing through, and the single shade we think can communicate the color message that best reflects what is taking place in our culture at this moment in time.” Ideas can emerge from expected places, like fashion and design, but also sources more far afield. “Areas we look to can include the entertainment industry and films in production, traveling art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design, popular travel destinations, as well as new lifestyles, play styles, and socio-economic conditions. Influences may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures, and effects that impact color, relevant social media platforms and even upcoming sporting events that capture worldwide attention.”
While Pantone won’t announce its hotly anticipated hue until later this year, paint companies like Behr, Benjamin Moore, and Sherwin Williams have already released their picks for the new decade, along with what they believe those colors reflect about the year ahead. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re all different.
Photography by: Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore’s 2020 selection, a soft, rosy pink called “First Light,” was selected, in part, because the company’s forecasters kept seeing it pop up in their travels.
“One of our team members saw it during Dutch Design Week,” says Andrea Magno, Benjamin Moore’s director of Color Marketing & Development. “There was a sophistication, it wasn’t overly sweet but the soft, blush color has been around for a number of years and we’ve been tracking it.”
In this sense, paint companies become curators; they seek out popular design aesthetics and distill them for consumers. Annual colors of the year not only provide inspiration for interiors, but also help guide homeowners toward living amongst a fresh palette of colors that may not be in their immediate field of view.
Photography by: Benjamin Moore