Feast your eyes on opaque couché, the color designed to repulse smokers
Poor, unlovely opaque couché. This lowly cousin of olive drab may be the only color that’s designed to repulse consumers, rather than entice them. After extensive research and focus grouping, the UK government determined it is the ugliest color in the world—and they’re putting it on every cigarette pack.
“It’s used to deter you, to make you feel sick,” says UK-based Karen Haller, who consults on color psychology for big brands. “This particular sludgy green is like decay. You would never get this reaction for lime green or grass green or forest green.”
Opaque couché, known as Pantone 448C among certain crowds, was one of many ugly ducklings presented to 1,000 smokers by global marketing agency GfK. “Dirty” and “death” were words that came up again and again with this one—opaque couché was perfect.
The UK recently made draconian changes to their tobacco marketing laws. All branding has been removed from cigarette packages, a tactic that proved a strong smoking deterrent in this 2013 study. The new packs are 60% covered in health warnings. Health warnings and opaque couché, that is.
Like standing up for an unpopular child, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, defended Pantone 448C to the Guardian: “At the Pantone Color Institute, we consider all colours equally,” she said. Eiseman then mentioned opaque couché might look nice on a sofa.
GfK’s study was first conducted in Australia, several years back. When the Australian government stamped the ugly color on its own cigarette packaging, they initially called it “olive green”—until the olive industry freaked out. “To associate any food with cigarettes is a thoughtless thing to do, especially one that's had a very good reputation as being a healthy product,” Lisa Rowntree, chief executive of the Australian Olive Association, told The Sunday Age. “You could have called it 'drab green' or 'khaki green' or, better still, not used green at all.''
Color is the first thing our brains absorb on a product package, according to Haller, before shapes or words or a logo. “The job of a brand is to align the color—which reaches you on a subconscious level—with the rest of the messaging,” she says. It may not be voluntary branding, but opaque couché certainly aligns with the new health warnings. (Research participants also associated the color with “Tar”.)
If Haller had conducted the focus group testing, her questions would have been more nuanced and probing: “But how does this color make you feel?” Even so, she suspects her results would have been the same as GfK’s. Haller claims she loves all colors, and yet: “[Opaque couché] really makes you think of rotting.”
Update: Hyperallergic mounted a defense of opaque couché this morning, claiming it’s very similar to the color of Mona Lisa’s shawl.