The holiday season has always been more than just a special time to spend with loved ones, as corporations seize the moment to create memorable marketing campaigns that will have the public talking well into the new year. Especially with the rise of social media, December has become a competition for companies like Spotify, Google, and even dictionary publisher Oxford Languages to frame the year through their own copyrighted lenses in ploys that heavily depend on internet viral-ness.
Since 2000, Pantone Color Institute — the company best known for patenting a universal color matching system used across a range of worldwide industries — has also taken part in these charades through its annual Color of the Year announcement, which predicts the upcoming year’s go-to hue based on trend analyses and socio-economic influences, according to the company’s website. This year’s chosen shade is “Peach Fuzz,” described by the company in a press release as “a cozy peach hue softly nestled between pink and orange.”
Now, TikTok users are calling BS on Pantone as viral videos allege that the company is prioritizing the interests of tech conglomerates.
“They’re positing themselves as a very unbiased arbiter of what the color of the year will be and I think they sold out to big tech,” TikTok user Ariana Alfonso said in a video posted to the social media platform in August that has since garnered more than one million views.
In the video, Alfonso pointed to several examples in recent years in which the Color of the Year has coincidentally correlated with tech business ventures. For 2017’s Color of the Year, Alfonso claims that Pantone chose “Greenery,” a green-yellow shade, in order to appeal to the interests of Android, whose lime-green text messages have rivaled Apple’s cerulean blue iMessage bubbles since the dawn of smartphones.
“In 2017, we were starting to pivot really radically hard towards minimalist neutrals,” Alfonso argued. “Nothing this bright was coming into trend, so I was like, ‘Why would they pick this color?’ And then it occurred to me: You know who really wants this color to be cool? Android.”
After users began asking Alfonso for more evidence, she posted another video in which she quoted an interview with Pantone Vice President Laurie Pressman published in House Beautiful. Pressman said that there is “a misconception that we gather a bunch of color influencers in a room one day and emerge with the decision” and that in fact, the color of the year is chosen based on “one long, continuously flowing conversation among a group of color-attuned people.”
“What that really says is that there is no transparent selection process,” Alfonso opined.
Pantone’s website provides more details about this decision-making process, which takes place in closed-door meetings held twice a year in a European capital. After two days of “presentations and debate” by representatives from different countries, the group chooses a color for the following year. Hyperallergic has also contacted the Pantone Color Institute for comment.
In the comments below Alfonso’s video, many users began taking guesses at the possibilities of discreet partnerships with other companies, such as Yelp in 2012 after the company went public, and Tiffany & Co. in 2010 to align with the jewelry company’s 30-year partnership with Paloma Picasso. Another user alleged that Delta Airlines paid for the 2018 choice of “Ultra Violet” to coordinate with the launch of its plum-colored employee uniforms, which were dropped in 2020 after reports that staff were suffering from allergic reactions.
In another video posted earlier this month, Tiktok user Rae Leigh, known as @maxedoutmommy on the platform, builds on Alfonso’s theory in an in-depth slideshow presentation to her off-screen husband Ryan, pointing to other years in which the Color of the Year seemingly lined up with the business interests of companies like vacation rental company Airbnb, the now-defunct Vine social media platform, and Apple. Leigh also makes a point to trace the history of Pantone’s numerical color system and how their successful standardization of color led to the company’s color trend reports, which are compiled by “color industry experts” to forecast color trends six to 24 months in advance, according to the company’s website.
Leigh described this color trend forecast as a “chicken and egg situation,” as the influential factors that determine color trends and the Color of the Year appear to be one and the same.
“Were they really setting the color trends by sending out the color trend books, and by setting a Color of the Year, were they really making that the popular color for the next year?” Leigh posited to Ryan before pointing out the pre-existing licensing deals between Pantone and cellular phone company Motorola, skate shoe brand Cariuma, and performance fabric company Ultrafabrics that were announced with the company’s Viva Magenta decision for 2023. Notably, 2024’s peachy hue already attached partnerships with these same companies, in addition to collaborations with interior design brands, Polaroid, a toothbrush company, a cosmetic line, and even a tea manufacturer.
Not that these collaborations should come as a surprise. How can we forget 2020’s controversial “Period” red partnership with Swedish-based brand Intimina? The Pantone polemic was perhaps best summarized by the Argentine art collective Cromoactivismo, who asked in a letter that year: “How can we think that the shade ‘Period Red’ can universally represent our menstrual palettes?”
“We feel the need to say once more that we do not need the support of a global capitalist company that turns color into a private property, a standardized merchandise,” the group wrote.