Mattel protects the Barbie Pink colour mark unconventionally.
Barbie fever goes worldwide as Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated film went live at theaters around the world earlier this week. Based on Barbie dolls owned by American manufacturing company Mattel, the film has been marketed for months prior to its release by paying homage to all things Barbie — particularly in the Barbie pink shade.
The association of a unique shade of hot pink to Barbie has been developed over the years since the inception of the doll in the 1950s, hence the term ‘Barbie Pink’. The marketing campaign for Barbie (2023) has followed suit in utilising ‘Barbie Pink’ in all of its promotional materials. From posters to collaborations, there is a uniformity in the colour palette across everything in relation to Barbie. But does Mattel actually own the rights to this particular hue of pink?
Colour trademarks are commonly protected by companies who have developed a brand identity in relation to a shade. Registration for a colour mark is most likely to take place when the general public has associated the colour with the brand itself. Therefore, a legally protected colour mark needs to be distinguishable from competitors in the market. Examples include Tiffany Blue, a robin’s egg blue protected by jewellers Tiffany & Co; and Louboutin Red, a deep red hue belonging to French luxury fashion house Christian Louboutin.
‘Barbie Pink’ is identified as Pantone 219c and is described as a cross between ‘magenta and pink’. Mattel has previously ventured to apply for the ‘Barbie Pink’ word mark, however no colour mark applications have been made by the company. Instead, Mattel utilises distinctiveness in use of a colour mark to protect the ‘Barbie Pink’ shade. Through years of consistent use of Pantone 219c with all things Barbie, from toys to homeware to fashion items, the company has managed to gain the rights to ‘Barbie Pink’ through its exclusive use of the shade.
Mattel’s prolonged use of ‘Barbie Pink’ has led the colour to gain secondary meaning, a phenomenon whereby the general public associates the colour to a source — in this circumstance, the public identifies Pantone 219c with the Barbie brand. As a result, ‘Barbie Pink’ can function as a trademark and is legally protected as one due to acquired distinctiveness.
Despite having no colour trademark registration, Mattel appears to be diligent in protecting their rights to the shade. In August 2022, the company filed an infringement lawsuit against Rap Snacks over a range of snacks created in collaboration with rap star Nicki Minaj. The Barbie-Que Honey Truffle Potato Chips were deemed to be infringing upon Mattel’s trademarks, including the pink colour scheme used by Rap Snacks. Similarly, the company filed against MCA Records over the song ‘Barbie Girl’ produced by European band Aqua. Mattel took issue over the use of ‘Barbie Pink’ shade on Aqua’s album art amongst other trademark infringement claims.
As the boom of Barbie continues following the release of Gerwig’s blockbuster, Mattel will have to work harder to regulate the use and appropriation of ‘Barbie Pink’ on a greater scale to ensure the safeguarding of its intellectual property.