Many holidays have color schemes, but the green of St. Patrick’s Day is the only one I know of that’s punitive. At my Jackson-Via Elementary School, there was such an epidemic of pinching — hard pinching — on March 17 that our teachers had to stock clip-on shamrocks to protect those of us who plum forgot to wear anything emerald or olive or even seafoam.
Aside from its role in annual minor violence, green is a fascinating color. Because it sits at the center of the wavelengths that our brains perceive as visible light, humans see and distinguish green better than any other hue (a fact that featured heavily in a 2014 episode of Fargo.) There are both physical and evolutionary arguments for why this is the case, but this is something that marketers have known at least since the dawn of pigment.
So how well do you know your greens? In the following game, you’ll be shown a series of seven common corporate logos that prominently use the color green. One at a time, you’ll see six versions of the logo, five of which have had their shade of green altered. Your task is to identify the correct logo with the right shade of green.
If you didn’t do well — which I didn’t after I tested the code at least a hundred times — don’t fret. What’s particularly curious about green is that we tend to be able to recognize precise shades in context but have more trouble recalling the exact shade of, say, a Starbucks cup in a vacuum.
Marketers are forever spinning the color wheel looking for that entrancing hue or shade that will forever represent their product. Color is one of the principal ways that people try to distinguish their wares in large part because there are so many options, and certain combinations can become highly recognizable.
Exactly how many options there are, though, courts cannot agree upon. In 1995, the Supreme Court sided with a dry-cleaning supply company that wanted to trademark its signature green-gold press pads. Meanwhile, new trademark applications can choose whether or not to include color as part of the originality of a logo, which can make the approval process more difficult. Though after a protracted appeal, Starbucks–which did not specify the color green in its original mermaid trademark–did win ownership of a coffee cup with a green dot on it.
Unlike, say, the American Flag, which has very specific color values, companies do not register the codes used to describe printed or digital colors. For the purposes of the above quiz, the “correct” green was often provided in the company’s press kit, or easily gleaned from advertising material. That said, color is not merely in the mind of the beholder. The “beholdee”–your monitor–might not be calibrated the same as mine. And with any luck, it’s probably cleaner.