NEW YORK• The people at Pantone know that times are hard.
“Many of us,” the colour company said in a recent presentation, feel anxious, “completely overloaded and perpetually stressed”.
The antidote, according to Pantone’s swatch psychologists? Blue. Specifically: Classic Blue.
For the 21st consecutive year, Pantone has named a colour of the year, a trend-forecasting stunt as closely watched by the news media as it is by the industries – marketing, fashion, design – that actually traffic in visual trends.
The blue of next year is not Cerulean (the company’s first pick, back in 2000), Aqua Sky (2003), Blue Turquoise (2005), Blue Iris (2008) nor Serenity (which shared the 2016 title with Rose Quartz). It is Classic Blue, a darker, more familiar shade than its cyanic siblings.
Classic Blue is the colour of blueberries, a Pepsi can and the sky when it is “that beautiful colour at the end of the day”, said Ms Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Colour Institute, which researches and advises companies on human responses to colour.
In choosing Classic Blue, the organisation said it first examined what was going on in the world.
“We’re living in this time now where things seem to be, around the world, a little bit, I don’t want to use the word unstable, but let’s just say a little shaky,” said Ms Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Colour Institute. “Nothing is absolutely certain from one moment to the next.”
Pantone would not get too specific about why people feel “shaky”. Political unrest seemed an obvious source of the tremors, but, Ms Pressman said, “we weren’t looking at this as a political message”.
Rather, Pantone has pinned the world’s anxiety and stress on a more common enemy: technology.
“It has sped things up to the point where we can’t necessarily handle all that’s coming in,” Ms Eiseman said.
Classic Blue “provides a refuge”, according to Pantone, fulfilling a “desire for a dependable, stable foundation”. Classic Blue is “non-aggressive”, “easily relatable” and “honest”. One thing Classic Blue is not: sad.
Despite centuries of artists and writers using blue to represent melancholy, young people do not associate blue with sadness anymore, Ms Eiseman said.
“I think that’s kind of an older generation reaction,” she said.
For the first time, Pantone’s announcement comes with multi-sensory bonuses. The company is releasing music inspired by Classic Blue – an electro-pop track called Vivid Nostalgia – as well as a berry tea and velvety fabric. Influencers and some journalists were also sent candles and jam.
It is an escalation in Pantone’s annual publicity push, an already formidable effort. Every December, the announcement is widely covered by American outlets and trade publications (along with any backlash).
The attention has helped make Pantone one of the most influential organisations in colour forecasting – an occupation dating back to the early 20th century – said Dr Regina Lee Blaszczyk, a history professor at Britain’s University of Leeds and author of The Colour Revolution.
“The colour of the year is really a marketing effort on the part of Pantone to get media attention,” she said. “What Pantone has brilliantly done is figure out how to capitalise on celebrity culture. Essentially, the colour of the year is designating a colour as a celebrity.”