For over 20 years, Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced consumer tastes and product design in industries where aesthetics matter. Last month, the Pantone Color Institute continued its tradition by naming not one, but two colors as its Color of the Year for 2021! So what pairing is slated to usher us out of an unprecedented year? “Illuminating” Pantone 13-0647 and “Ultimate Gray” Pantone 17-5104.[1]

Pantone Color of the Year 2021

Marketers have long understood how color plays into a brand’s visual identity to convey a particular meaning or emotion. A thoughtfully selected color not only builds on the brand’s aesthetic, but also creates an overarching mood or elicits a desired emotional response. In describing this year’s choice, the Institute says that Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow, sparkling with vivacity and giving hope, while Ultimate Gray is “emblematic of solid and dependable elements.” Together, they are a “marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.”

Though tapped by the Institute for 2021, this combination of colors is not new. Villeroy and Boch has used this palette with its “Audon” dinnerware for years, Lord & Taylor adopted these colors for its corporate logo in early 2019, and Fluke has been using yellow and gray to identify its voltage tester for more than a decade.

Yellow and gray trade dress examples

If your brand is considering adopting these (or any other) colors for its trade dress or messaging, we encourage you to consider the following before moving forward:

  • Conduct a clearance search to determine whether the color(s) of interest are available for use with your goods and services;
  • Check existing registrations for any current color mark to see if they are due for maintenance. If so, consider adopting the new color(s) for only select models/SKUs to allow you to maintain your existing registrations if they remain of interest;​
  • ​Consult with any relevant industry and regulatory teams before adopting a new color scheme to confirm that it is neither misleading of the nature of your product, nor likely to create consumer confusion or to cause harm.

Federal registration of color marks continues to be a challenge, though last year’s Federal Circuit decision in In re Forney Industries, Inc., finding a multi-color gradient mark inherently distinctive for welding goods, offers brand owners hope.[2] To up your brand’s chances of registering a color mark, remember to instruct consumers to look for your brand’s color(s) in the marketplace, use the color(s) consistently to reinforce their association with your brand, and avoid referring to any functional attributes of the color(s) — e.g., the ease of visibility of the color orange — since functional color marks are never registrable.

Regardless of your brand’s color story, cheers to the health and prosperity of your brand and to you in 2021!


This article appeared in the January 2021 issue of MarkIt to Market®. To view our past issues, as well as other firm newsletters, please click here.