Why the Color Purple?

When Prince died in 2016, many cities lit up bridges and monuments in his honor.

Prince and the color purple are forever linked because of the song Purple Rain, right?

Not exactly.

Here’s a little glimpse behind the curtain of the wizard of Paisley Park. Prince is linked with purple because of branding and an intentional effort to have you connect him with purple. He wasn’t the only performer to be identified with a color: Johnny Cash wrote a song called “Man in Black” and only wore black after that; Jack White and Meg White of the White Stripes also identified with a color.

Chris Moon, who in the 1970s was a Minneapolis-based record producer and Prince’s early collaborator, said he suggested that Prince link his identity to a color. In a Facebook post in 2018, Moon shared this:

When I first started working with Prince, I was also running the recording studio at Campbell-Mithun, the largest ad agency in MN. They had many very large national and International clients and I would learn how advertising campaigns and product image was developed by watching the ad execs develop them.

In the process, I sat in on a color review meeting one week when the ad agency worked on selecting a single color for a new company image and this is when learned how color was used in advertising. I shared this story with Prince when I was working to develop his image for him and explained how linking a color to a product or artist created another way for the audience to identify them.

We had gone through a lengthy process of settling on his name (another story for another day) so during one of the next steps in the marketing and packaging process, I proposed to Prince this idea of picking a color for his identity. I suggested the one we should use for him be Purple as it was a color directly associated with royalty which would help cement the Prince name in the minds of fans. I told him if we always used purple on everything associated with him, then as an artist eventually he would own that color and no other artist could use it without it reminding the audience of Prince … that it would be HIS color. He liked the idea and he liked the color purple so we agreed from that point on this would be HIS color.

Decades later, the idea of personal branding would take hold (the bestselling book The Brand Called You, was published in 1997). The idea of personal branding leads us to the treacherous questions of the brand called Prince, versus the human being called Prince, and later, how Prince dropped the brand called Prince and became a symbol. What he was really saying to us was that while “Prince” was his birth name, it was a brand. As much as “Prince” was a brand, so were the various personas he adopted to express other parts of his personalities, from the character of Christopher Tracy in Under the Cherry Moon, to Jamie Starr (the producer of The Time and Vanity 6).

One thought on “Why the Color Purple?

  1. Debra Myers

    “Warner Bros took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing took to promote all of the music I wrote,” Prince once said in a press release. “The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.”

    I also read someplace that Prince was really pissed off that his birth name (the name his mother had given him) was trademarked.

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