Drop Cloth and Mouse’s Back: Farrow & Ball paints may have ridiculous names, but is it good branding?

Verbal branding expert Chris West examines the ‘magic’ of Farrow and Ball’s naming strategy and what it means for the aspirant middle-classes

The colours of Spring this year aren’t daffodil yellow or lawn green. They’re Worsted, Drop Cloth and Yeahbridge Green.

Because Spring is when Farrow & Ball releases its new collection of colours and this year there are nine new hues for you to choose, each with an archly anachronistic F & B name.

The mere existence of Farrow and Ball is sometimes seen as a shameful sign of excess wealth sloshing around in certain pockets of society and the paints’ names have become the focus for the haters. Of course, having haters for your brand is as inevitable as having lovers when your brand positioning is right. (It’s ‘Meh’ and whatev’s that kill quicker than anything else.)

But has Farrow and Ball gone too far when its own fans feel the need to borrow the phraseology of shamed middle-class addicts to soften their enthusiasm, saying things like, “I confess I’ve been using Wimborne White.”?

white chart
Just some of the many shades of white available from Farrow & Ball

Is having self-haters a dangerous situation for a brand?

Perhaps not.

When my firm worked on repositioning Ocado’s narrative, we were initially shocked by the comments that Ocado customers posted on Twitter. A typical one was, “Waiting in for my @Ocado delivery. Middle-class knob that I am.”

But we soon realised that these customers were in fact signalling their upward mobility, in the same way as someone correcting themself mid-sentence to call the settee a sofa (you wouldn’t do that, would you?) or having a brace fitted on their teeth in their 40s (you weren’t thinking of that, were you?)

Likewise, those snarky comments on the Facebook page “Overheard in Waitrose.” If they were overheard in Waitrose, then you were in Waitrose, too.

All brands which want to appeal to an aspirational consumer have to create some kind of believable magic. No magic, no margin.

And for Farrow and Ball – the haters are right! – the names are the magic words.

To find their names, Farrow and Ball drive straight past the out-of-town warehouse of the obvious, a place where Dulux uses names drawn from the everyday things we’ve already seen (“Spring Rose”, “Blue Lagoon” and erm, “Pixie Green”.)

They carry on, motoring deep into lost landscapes and places of half-forgotten dialects, where they collect a palette of names with provenance (not mere inventions) that is as distinctive as the colours.

This year’s include Cromarty, Vardo, Inchyra Blue and Salon Drab.

All of them have a wonderful rounded mouth feel, something like rolling a hard-boiled humbug around and around in your mouth.

And like the best magicians, if Farrow and Ball want you to believe it, they have to believe it too.

In a world where a banana and strawberry smoothie brand wants to charge £1.79 while infantilising you by talking to you as a child to a child (“This means I’ve got to behave…really good for you.”) Farrow and Ball talks unashamedly as a grown up to a grown up.

Drop Cloth is “the colour of the indispensable painter’s dust sheet”. Yeahbridge Green is “a clean fresh green discovered in the kitchen of a Georgian farmhouse in Somerset, when the original gun cupboard was removed.”

To which I want to say, I knew I’d seen it somewhere before.

Because when a tone of voice is this self-conscious, it’s easy to tease. And frankly, who am I to resist?

So as Winter’s long Elephant’s Breath nights give into the softer Cromarty dusks of Spring, try the Creative Review test.

All of the names in the list below are real Farrow and Ball names – except two. Can you spot the ringers?

And here’s a hint: one of the fake names is a character from a Jane Austen novel, the other is a component of a steam engine.

Savage Ground

Tallow

Cat’s Paw

London Stone

James White

Smoked Trout

Mouse’s Back

Mole’s Breath

Fanny Price

Hardwick White

Pigeon

Dimpse

Dix Blue

London Clay

Charleston Gray

Ringwold Ground

Cooking Apple Green

Middleton Pink

Wimborne White

Petticoat Pipe

Calke Green

Cinder Rose

Down Pipe

Calluna

Railings

Skimming Stone

Chris West is the Founder of brand language and strategy consultants Verbal Identity . He is also the inaugural President of the Verbal Branding Jury at this year’s London International Awards, the first time the discipline has existed as a stand-alone division. His company Tweets on developments in brand language and you can get the answers to the Farrow and Ball names test by Tweeting them: @verbid

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