Monday, October 26, 2009

Pantone: Color Leader, Cultural Failure

I want to start by saying, I love Pantone. I love each tiny chip of perfect alphanumeric code of color. I envy people with Pantone mugs and bookbags. And I am aware that Pantone is an industry leader in terms of color and design. It's for that reason, that I'm concerned about how Pantone is choosing to lead the industry culturally.

Pantone recently sent me, at my request, a bunch of promo materials for their newest products and programs. They sent me collateral on Pantone Goe, the Pantone Chip In program, Pantone Fashion & Home, and Pantone's "Less Mellow, More Yellow" booklet. (I've since been to the site, and have not found a way to request these samples again.)

If you didn't know, Mimosa is Pantone's color of the year 2009. Hence, the Mellow Yellow booklet, to highlight all the various emotional connotations of the color yellow beyond mellow: aggressive, playful, zesty, surprising and intimate. I certainly agree with Pantone that yellow can be all of these things. However, I do not agree with how Pantone chose to represent these many shades of yellow (see below). My commentary continues after the images.

It's late, so I'm going to keep the critique simple and short.

The aggressive photo
plays with the stereotype that black men are aggressive. But particularly because black "gangster" men are aggressive--note the bandanna, tank top, chain necklaces and tattoos. What really makes this offensive, is that they didn't even shoot the man in an aggressive pose such as head on with direct eye contact. Instead, he is shot at an angle, and his eyes are looking to the viewer at an angle--suggesting that he is responding to our gaze, not directing his own. They took all the "aggressiveness" out of this photo through the subject's pose, and relied on his cultural markers to identify him as aggressive.

Less offensive photo idea:
Shoot an image of a person head on, eyes straight, in what appears to be some type of business suit. The tie could be yellow.

In the playful photo the woman is nude. She has no gaze because her eyes are shut. Her mouth has the hint of a smile. (I'm surprised they didn't shoot her mouth slightly open.) Her body positioning is offering itself to the viewer by elongating her neck and turning the head away. She is supposed to be playful, but is portrayed as the play thing instead. Also, the black lipstick, heavy black mascara and yellow band across her neck make this image reek of bondage themes, and she is clearly not the dominating one.

Less offensive photo idea: Show her moving! Show her actually acting playful, and preferably with clothes on.

The zesty photo makes the least sense to me. Again she is nude, because that is important when licking fruit and wearing bananas on your head. (C'mon, bananas? Are they really zesty?) Her eyes are positioned at an upwards angle. She is positioned to be looked down at and upon. Her mouth is suggestive. She's certainly not eating that fruit.

Less offensive photo idea: Show "zesty" foods or zesty behavior. Zesty is not a synonym for sexy. My zesty guacamole is not sexy. Use lemons, limes, peppers, spices. Or show her making a "zesty" face. And zesty face is not equal to sexy pout face.

The surprising photo isn't particularly offensive on its own. But it is offensive when shown with the rest of the series. A white male has his clothes on. He is positioned head on and in control. His gaze is direct. The meaning between the word-surprising, and the image is clear. It is surprising that there's a spoon on this guy's nose. There is no direct (and un-offensive) correlation between the word and the subject in the other photos. This photo is so blatantly different from the others. Why weren't they all shot in this way?

Less offensive photo idea: Make the other photos work better rather than perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes.

The intimate photo completely disregards any subtlety. The photo is a voyeuristic snapshot into the top of a woman's tank top. This photo gives the woman no agency, not even a face. Her mouth may be smiling, but it's not actually clear. She's being viewed from above, so she is looked down at and upon. Her body is being objectified, because it's not the entire woman being looked down at, only her cleavage. The short depth of field and soft focus on this image is completely unlike any of the other photos. And even more ridiculous--there's not even any yellow in the image! Except for the photoshopped flowers and swirls on top of the image. In that case, why use this image at all?

Less offensive photo idea: Intimate doesn't have to mean sex. This photograph could easily work by showing an adult parent coddling a child. Or heck just show a baby with a yellow cloth diaper or blanket--let the intimacy be inferred.

I don't want to forget the woman on the cover (1st photo) who is also nude. She's touching herself in an intimate way. She's not rubbing her neck, she's running her fingertips across it. Her mouth is slightly ajar.

Less offensive photo: Anything.

To sum up: Women are zesty, playful and intimate. Men are aggressive and surprising. Women are best gazed upon and nude. People of color are at their best when they represent stereotypes. And the main point to sum up about Pantone is that they either do not care about the messages they are sending out into society or this is just a huge glaring yellow blemish on their PMS chip.

Pantone's already declared yellow to be much more than mellow--aggresive, playful, zesty, surprising and intimate. Now I'm adding controversial to the list.

What do you all think?


jhaddock said...

The zesty woman really comes across as a little scary to me. I'm a little concerned about what she's going to do to that fruit.

As for the Intimate photo, I actually didn't even notice the woman in the background until you mentioned it. I looked at the flower as the focal point, and the rest was just blurry background; but now that I've seen the rest, it does seem absolutely hamfisted.

It would seem that more than anything, Pantone probably needs a new advertising agency to come up with some ideas from beyond the year 1955.

h. van de mark said...

But isn't it surprising how far off Pantone's ad agency/creative directors/photographers are? I don't think Adobe or Mac would have the poor business sense to create a campaign like this.

jhaddock said...

I guess I'm just used to large companies making awful advertising decisions? Sony is infamous for creating incomprehensible/offensive ads, and Microsoft Europe really nailed it recently when the edited a black man out of their ad and photoshopped a white dude over him for an ad in Poland...

h. van de mark said...

oh, i saw that microsoft ad! how terrible. seriously, how does that get by. Don't think I've seen an offensive Sony ad, but I'm sure a simple gooogle search will enlighten me.

I definitely think for the pantone booklet, they were like, oh we need a minority, and put in the black guy photo--unfortunately did so as an aggresive ganster, but ya know, they were trying...?!