Court says Cadbury can't keep competitors away from its signature purple color

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Now, if you're a chocolate lover, you're probably familiar with Cadbury milk chocolate bars. OK, what if I said the ones in the distinctive purple wrap? Now you know what I'm talking about. Purple is very serious business for Cadbury and the company has been trying to keep its competitors away from the color. But they lost the fight. A ruling by a UK Court of Appeals now allows any company to sell chocolate with the same color wrapping. Martin Lindstrom is the author of "Buyology - Truth and Lies About Why We Buy." How serious a decision will this be for Cadbury, Martin?

Martin Lindstrom: It's incredibly serious because Cadbury over the years has spent millions of dollars building an association or link between the brand and that particular color hoping that they would reach a situation where, well, you just see a color purple and then you immediately think about the brand.

Werman: Yeah, I mean I was just looking at a bunch of YouTube Cadbury commercials and my eyes were just like sparkling purple at the end of it. It was about ten commercials, all purple. I mean red is associated with Coke; they've even got Coke bottle green. Subconsciously what does color do to consumers?

Lindstrom: Well, it does a lot. But the reality is that it only does something if you only manage to consistently link the color together with the brand and what happens in this case is Cadbury now, for at least twenty years, has established that link. That means by just by showing a color, that's enough for a consumer at a subconscious level to think about the brand and it's exactly that what is so important because at a subconscious level you sort of feel, "Hey, I feel a craving for chocolate right now." And when that happens you actually are not held back by your rational ID in your brain and you go straight to action which is to buy the product.

Werman: Right. Which the manufacturers just love. So have you ever been in a store and trying to figure out what thing to buy and you were drawn to a brand because of its color?

Lindstrom: Oh, absolutely. All the time.

Werman: Like what?

Lindstrom: Well, like Coca-Cola for example or like Cadbury for that sake. What's so fascinating about this is that we cannot be rational when things are appealing to us at a subconscious level. Now, this is interesting stuff because some years ago we did the biggest neuroscience study in the world where we scanned consumers' brains across six countries using MRI which is probably one of the most sophisticated ways of understanding what's going on in our brain. And what we learned was, by scanning smokers' brains and exposing to the color red and white in the tobacco category, that people, at a subconscious level just by seeing those two colors, felt a strong craving for cigarette smoking and not only that, for Marlboro in particular. What was even more fascinating was when we exposed them for a Camel, then only the Camel smokers were affected by it, not the Marlboro smokers. So at a subconscious level our brain selects the signals and generates craving straight away. And that's exactly what Cadbury has been able to do and basically what's happening now, this ruling is that now they've built free branding for everyone out there selling chocolates.

Werman: Martin Lindstrom, author of "Buyology". Thanks so much for your time.

Lindstrom: You're welcome. Take care.