This Is the World’s Ugliest Color … and It’s on a Mission

worlds ugliest color pantone

علاء / Wikimedia Commons / CC SA 4.0

Tasked with finding the most heinous hue known to humans, researchers arrived at Pantone 448C – and the Australian government is putting it to good use.

Whether we realize it or not, color affects our brains in far-reaching ways, a fact not lost on marketers who spend a lot of effort in selecting colors meant to lure us into spending money. But what if color could be used for just the opposite?

This is what the Australian government had in mind a few years ago when they asked research agency GfK Bluemoon to determine which color is the most repugnant, the most disgusting, the most likely to make people want to head for the hills. And once determined, they’d slap this sickening shade all over tobacco products, reported the Brisbane Times.

‘‘It had as its aim the antithesis of what is our usual objective,’’ says market researcher Victoria Parr, from GfK Bluemoon. ‘‘We didn’t want to create attractive, aspirational packaging designed to win customers ... Instead our role was to help our client reduce demand, with the ultimate aim to minimize use of the product.’’

Describing the Ugliest Color

I think “ugly” is an ugly word when used to describe something purely on aesthetics; most things have some merit and looks are so subjective. It feels mean to call a color ugly ... a sentiment shared by the creators of the color, Pantone. “At the Pantone Color Institute, we consider all colors equally,” says Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone's executive director. There is “no such thing as the ugliest colour.”

But Pantone 448C, called “Opaque Couché,” is a bit on the drab side, which was confirmed by three months of studies performed by the research agency. Pantone 448C was commonly described as “death,” “dirty” or “tar” without any positive adjectives, says Parr.

World's ugliest color
Google Images / Public Domain

(It's difficult to get a true reading of the color online since color accuracy on computers is challenging, but you can get a taste for 448C nonetheless.)

Other Ugly Colors

Other colors in the running included lime green, white, beige, dark grey and mustard, but Pantone 448C ruled the roost in terms of its ability to ‘‘minimize appeal’’ and ‘‘maximize perceived harm.’’ Which sounds just about perfect for tobacco packaging.

So distasteful is the color that when the government initially referred to the muddy-sludgy tint as ‘‘olive green,’’ the Australian Olive Association protested, saying that basically it was an insult to olives. It has since been officially referred to as ‘‘drab dark brown.”

Box of Australian cigarettes
Tony Kent / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

And thus all tobacco products Down Under began donning a coat of drab dark brown, festooned with graphic images of the effects of smoking. And as the Marlboro man rode off into the sunset, other governments caught on to the novel idea – the United Kingdom, Ireland and France all passed “plain packaging” laws to start employing Opaque Couché to dissuade smokers as well. Ugly is totally the new awesome.