Suzuki dealers celebrated the popularity of savannah ivory. Elephants were less enthusiastic.

Toronto, Ontario -- March 15, 2019 -- As a young child, my parents seemed to take forever deciding on what new car they would buy, eventually settling on a 1994 Ford Taurus. As a reward for our obedience during our many hours bouncing between dealerships, my mother rewarded me and my sister with the choice of colour. The choice was obvious to us both. With a name as sophisticated and elegant as champagne, we knew it was the only option for our family. Were I a child of the new millennium, however, this decision would have been downright distressing.

Liquid yellow, tornado red, orange scream, caviar... why on Earth do so many colour options have names that send shivers up spines? Having worked on a piece covering paint techniques for Bodyworx Professional this week, I've found myself mulling the possibilities.

I've only got two working theories—neither of which really fit the evidence very well.

Option 1: The people who name these colours are all mad--in the Hatter, not the Max sense. Perhaps it is traditional for the privilege of naming the colour goes to the oldest designer, chemists whose careers began before the dangers of long-term chemical fume exposure were known. This seems highly unlikely.

Option 2: OEM marketing departments have discovered that the more horrifying a vehicle colour name is, the more people will want to buy the vehicle. While still unlikely, this seems, at least, plausible. The one problem is, plenty of OEMs have perfectly sensible names for their colour options—even ones prepared to court controversy for their other options.

Don't get me wrong, I know that many poorly chosen names are the result of terrible translations into English. In 2010, Italian OEM Bugatti suffered some embarrassment when it translated the name of its canola coloured schemes into English. Rather than using the word canola, the translation used the flower’s Anglo-Saxon name—the rape.

While Bugatti was quick to apologize for and change the name of rape yellow, it is not the only OEM to be the victim of a botched translation. Like Bugatti, one can only imagine that online translation services have played a role in turning perfectly serviceable names into terrifying ones. Volkswagen’s tornado red must make more sense in its original German—after all, it would take a truly disturbing scenario for a tornado to turn red. Likewise. Whatever Hyundai’s iLoad creamy white

But not all hair-raising names can be blamed on inept interpreters. Consider Mitsubishi’s Labrador black metallic—available to today’s drivers—which forces the mind to imagine what it would be like to have the pelts of many-a-beloved family pet stretched across the exterior of a vehicledownright heartworming.

It isn't just dog-lovers who OEMs seem eager to offend.  Given the tendency for animal rights activists to respond to any number of contrived controversies, I am astounded that there was no outcry about Suzuki’s decision to call one beige option savannah ivory. The savannah roaming elephants of Africa are, after all, threatened with extinction by ivory poachers.

Even American and English OEMs, which are presumably more aware of the risks of offending the sensibilities of the public in this day and age appear intent on courting controversy. Ford's grabber blue, while not actually inspired by the polarizing President's most famous hot mic moment, seems one such example. The fact that Ford also offers a winning blue as well does not diminish from this coincidental could-be controversy.

Another comes from Cooper Mini--which used to offer its customers the option of a colour called black eye purple.Why not plum? Why not aubergine? Concord? Sure, plums, eggplants and too-sweet grapes are less attention-grabbing. They are also not quite so easily associated with spousal abuse! 

I am hoping that you, my dear reader, may have an explanation that passes muster for this phenomenon. If you do, or if you have a favourite example of your own, feel free to let me know! I can be reached at gideon@mediamatters.ca.

 

 

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