Wednesday, March 13, 1996


IT CAME out of the blue, really. After many years fighting a loosing battle against Coca Cola's red livery, PepsiCo has decided to change the key colour of its soft drink range to blue. The reasons for the switch, it seems, are caught up in a wish to escape conflict with the "positive retro imaging" of Coca Cola's red cans. The company, which has for" several years tried to place its product as the beverage of the future, has decided that the best shorthand for that message is "blue".

Switching to blue, at an estimated cost of Pounds 200 million, (easily shading Aer Lingus's modest Pounds 8.5 million redesign) gives the company "new ammunition to take into the battle with the enemy. It creates the kind of excitement which helps rally the troops," according to a "world expert on brands" quoted in the British press last week.

That Pepsi should choose to fight back by making a blue shift aligns the company with a distinct, ever growing band of communications specialists - black folk musicians, painters, film makers, confectioners - who have at one time or another, put their faith in blue, or as any definition worth its weight in visible rays would say, in the "hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between green and indigo, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 450 to 490 nanometers".

In communications terms, blue can have several meanings, but among its most common at present is as a shorthand synonym for "deep" in the spiritual and the intellectual senses of the word; something of real, preternatural and eternal value. In the light of which, the name of the supercomputer recently defeated by Gary Kasparov at chess, Deep Blue, seems like a heavy overstatement.

Yves Klein, the painter and conceptualist, made a career out of one particular shade of blue, which he named International Klein Blue. Other painters may have had their blue periods, but Klein is easily the most consistent. He is recorded as having been struck, early in his career, by the intensity of the colour of the sky above Ireland. "The sky is always heavy, even when it is clear, because the blue is a deep blue," Klein wrote during a period spent here in 1950.

But maybe we shouldn't get over excited about that, since a few years later the artist declared "the entire earth is blue" and added that when Yuri Gajgarin returned from the inaugural walk in space and said "the earth has a beautiful blue colour", the cosmonaut had actually attended the vernissage of Klein's latest show in outer space.

When astronomers speak of a celestial body which regular guys might consider blue, they say that it has "a colour index of near zero". But as astro photographer David Malin once remarked, most would still prefer to view their spiral galaxies in photographic form: "Instead of memorising a number, you see the picture and say: 'What a blue galaxy; how interesting.'"

It has long been a tradition to interpose in the word "blue" to the title of a work, in the hope, perhaps, of adding an extra dimension to something that might otherwise seem rather, prosaic. This trends spans at least from Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird (1909), to David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1987), and indeed to the Joni Mitchell album and the Derek Jarman film which share the title, Blue. Not to be outdone by the artistic community, both M&M's and Smarties have attempted to connect with the credibility of the "blue" by introducing blue versions of their pill sized treats.

Before, however, too many others follow the lead offered by the Pepsi respray, it might be worth taking on board the observation of pioneering colourist, Vincent Van Gogh. "There is no blue," the painter said, "without yellow and without orange." Anyone for Fanta?


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