AkzoNobel sets the right tone as leader in colour

Ms Heleen van Gent, head of AkzoNobel Global Aesthetic Center, says monarch gold, the colour for next year, is a gold-influenced ochre which is bright enough to attract attention yet combines well with other tones.
Ms Heleen van Gent, head of AkzoNobel Global Aesthetic Center, says monarch gold, the colour for next year, is a gold-influenced ochre which is bright enough to attract attention yet combines well with other tones.PHOTO: AKZONOBEL DECORATIVE PAINTS

Picking the right colour to reflect not just prevailing trends but also future ones is a serious business for paint-maker AkzoNobel.

Underlying this is the significant sum of money it spends consulting its interior designers as well as outside experts in search of an annual El Dorado - the colour of the year.

Although time consuming, the payoff from this annual design talkfest is manifold, said Mr Ruud Joosten, an executive committee member on the AkzoNobel board of management, when the firm unveiled its annual colour trends known as ColourFutures in London recently.

"Being recognised as the leader in colour for many years in a row is important for our share of and position in the market. People expect from AkzoNobel and our brands that we are the leading party. And that keeps our credibility at the top level," he said.

AkzoNobel may not be a household name in Singapore but its best-known brand, Dulux, is certainly familiar to many Singaporeans.

Beyond dollars and cents, the annual exercise in search of colour trends affirms AkzoNobel as a leading global paints and coatings firm.

"If you deal with architects, for example, those who design big buildings, it is clear they would like to do business with people who know what they are talking about, who are indeed in the forefront of the game and always one little step ahead of the competition in colour choice," said Mr Joosten, who is responsible for the group's decorative paints business.

"So we prove, with the colour of the year, every year, that we are definitely a step ahead of everybody else and that is extremely important as colour is the heart of our business."

Understandably so, given the mainstay of AkzoNobel's decorative paint business - worth €4 billion (S$6.4 billion) in revenue last year - is derived from recurring works.

"It is important for us as 75 per cent of our decorative paint market is dependent on maintenance work, with 25 per cent consisting of new buildings," he noted.

AkzoNobel has unveiled monarch gold as the dominant colour for next year. This is a gold-influenced ochre which is bright enough to attract attention yet combines well with other tones, said Ms Heleen van Gent, head of AkzoNobel Global Aesthetic Center.

She noted that gold and gold tones are being used extensively in the design world.

"We feel that this is a beautiful next step, a natural evolution and transition from the coppery orange that was the colour of the year for 2015," said Ms Van Gent.

"Bright colours have moved away from primary to something more interesting. Think coral, not orange; ochre not yellow; and midnight, not blue."

In its 13th year, ColourFutures is an ongoing study about global design trends by AkzoNobel. Every year, its global aesthetic centre brings together a group of external influential design and colour experts to discuss what they believe will be the major developments in the coming years, based on global social and design trends.

AkzoNobel colour experts will crystallise these discussions into the nominated colour of the year and then come up with a palette that works well with that hue.

Seeking colour trends is not just a matter of aesthetics.

The consumers' choice and use of colour is also strongly influenced by the state of the economy, according to an earlier study by AkzoNobel.

Its research has shown that while regional preferences can have an impact on colour usage, trends in interior design have been fluctuating in waves over the last few decades as the economy ebbs and flows.

Despite the lengthy process involved, Ms Van Gent is proud of her team's track record in picking out the right colour year after year.

"We brainstorm 11/2 years in advance. It's quite exciting after that to see if everything we discussed is coming true. I'm very proud to say every time we are right. Apparently, we are able to nominate trends in a good way (that) really come true."

While other paint companies also run their own colour of the year campaigns and sometimes copy what AkzoNobel has done, Mr Joosten remains unfazed.

"People will copy but this is also good for the industry. The use of colour can be increased dramatically."

So is there a lingering benefit to being a first mover in identifying colour trends?

"It pushes us to stay on top of the game. Our teams are already thinking about what is going to happen in 2017," he said, adding that it is a challenge to get it right every time on colour trends.

"We are pretty fortunate and proud of our teams who make this happen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'AkzoNobel sets the right tone as leader in colour'. Print Edition | Subscribe