STANDARDISATION - STANDARDISING TASTE
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oligopolies further constricted entrepreneurship. The individualism
available for small businessmen and professionals shrank, before
being re-inflated in the realm of consumption. Consumer sovereignty
came to epitomise freedom. Professors of economics assured better-off
shoppers that they could distinguish themselves from the masses by
making rational decisions at the margins of their preferences.
Meanwhile, marketers channelled choice into profitable pathways.
Industry associations worked to ensure that any increase in the range of
products available did not hurt earnings. The dilemma for
marketers was how to increase effective demand while directing purchases
towards the lines with the highest rate of return.
The application of
colour to commodities offers a case study of this regulation of consumer
preference. The article opens
by illustrating the threat posed to profitability by allowing consumers
to buy whatever takes their fancy. The account then shows that the
manufacture of choice of colours
became part of the drive to lower unit costs through standardisation.
The apparatuses for this tailoring of taste included the Colour Councils
set up by corporations and backed by governments. The rest of the
article traverses the variants of these controls in regard to five
groups of commodities: fabrics, footwear, automobiles, house paints and
kitchenware. The latter often were plastic
of free choice
The penalty from a
failure to coordinate consumer
choices became clear in 1938 when an “unrestrained demand for
upper leathers of virtually every color in the spectrum” hurt the
Australian footwear industry:
CENTURY, FACTS FROM STANDARDISATION ARTICLE
RE UK, US AUSTRALIA
Association of Australia quoted the definitions given by U. S President Herbert
Hoover, himself a mining engineer, before expanding on its
being the method of reducing waste by the elimination of unnecessary
variety in products. Simplified Practice is therefore the concerted
application of simplification by producers, distributors and consumers,
to reduce capital charges, stocks, storage space, and similar overhead
costs, in order to increase sales turnover and specialised production
and distribution – and so to increase employment – by simplifying
requirements and permitting more ready and economical handling of the
demand. During the war, all of the belligerent nations developed
national Simplified Practice Schemes, though, with the passing of the
war period, emergency conditions were discarded, valuable lessons were
forgotten, and in many instances a rapid return was made to the
uneconomic conditions of over-variety which existed in pre-war days.
The depression revived
pressures to standarise the economy IN ORDER to create jobs.
one sense, fascism represented a return to war-time co-ordination.
The demands of colour
matching exceeded the vocabulary available for the delineation. English
has 4,000 words for colours but human beings can register two million
colour sensations. Hence, the trades could not rely on the eye, no
matter how experienced.
Textile, paint and printing industries adopted the Munsell System
of Colour Notation. Henry Munsell (18 – 19 ) was a U.S. artist and
teacher. In 1942, the U.S. Standards Organisation endorsed the 1915
revision of his colour System.
?????? The marketers
portrayed their channeling of preference as a service to consumer who,
as a result, would be able coordinate her ensemble with greater ease.
The British Colour
Council secured two forms of Royal Patronage: first, a senior Royal
acted as “patron”; secondly, the Palace condescended to allow the
Council to apply the Royal “brand” when announcing the colours for
Coronations, Royal Tours or Weddings. The association of Royals with
“trade” distressed the Melbourne establishment when the Duke of
Gloucester appeared on chocolate boxes, though the Sydney
Morning Herald (23 August 1934) approved of the Prince of Wales’s
acting as “England’s commercial traveler”.
In arranging the 1937
Coronation, fashionable colours were matters of high policy. In the wake
of the Abdication, the populace had to be encouraged to rally around the
Crown. Women’s fashions were thus chosen to blend with or to be set
against the red, white and blue of official decorations:
a clear beige and rust were the result. Marlborough-blue,
Coronation-gold, St James-rose, and Buckingham-lilac were heraldic
colors designed as pastel complements to the glittering uniforms and
In 1947, the shades for
the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince
Phillip were Lime-flower, Princess Blue, Linden and Spithead Blue. The
future monarch retained her preference for pastels for the Royal Tour
planned for early 1952 when she endorsed Tudor Cream, Edinburgh Rose,
Pacific Yellow and Wildflower Blue. The Women’s
Weekly London correspondent reported:
These colours have been
sent to British fabric and accessories manufacturers and will be seen in
the dress shows of London’s Big Ten. Lengths of materials in wool,
silk and rayon are displayed in the Salons of the Council and from these
one has an excellent idea of the colour trends of the coming season.
The Coronation colours
were Elizabethan Red, Marguerite Green, Princess Grey, Beau Blue and
In preparation for the
1954 Tour, the Colour Council’s new patron, Princess Margaret,
“sponsored” Clarence Rose, Ambassador Blue and Royal Blue. The
London correspondent for the Commonwealth
Jeweller and Watchmaker believed that these colours would “form a
perfect background to a range of pastel-coloured gemstones, including
Australian opals. Already ranges of clothes and other articles in the
new colours should be arriving in your stores and shops”. The writer
regretted that jewellers were not as adept as other traders in
“setting a fashion”.
Ten years later, a Melbourne hosiery maker, House of Prestige, used
replicas of the Crown jewels to promote its four “Colours Royale”.
A 1937 press release
explained “how the standardisation of a season’s colours” had been
council sent out its gipsy color chart months ago to Scottish spinners,
who, of all manufacturers, start earliest on a new season’s goods. The
spinner dyed their wools in the new colors and sent samples to weavers
weavers chose their wools, wove the materials, which went to Paris,
where designers, checking materials on the charts, chose lengths for new
shoe and hat makers meanwhile have dyed their leathers and fabrics by
the color chart. Models and accessories travel all over the world …
season’s charts make it possible for you to buy French silks that will
match Scottish tweeds, an English umbrella or match Viennese shoes,
Czechoslovakian jewellery to tone with your evening frock, and even the
sewing silk for making up your new season’s model.
Knowing the colour
range in advance also reduced those last-minute rushes in manufacture
that involved a higher hourly rate of pay from overtime, thereby
“filching the gilt from the ginger-bread”.
The initiators of an
Australian Colour Council in 1956 explained that their “primary aim is
to co-operate with the manufacturer in an endeavour to achieve complete
colour co-ordination in each particular manufacturing field”. The
benefits would be: 1. reduced manufacturing costs; 2. a concise workable
and economic merchandising plan; 3. “Harmonious display with greater
sales appeal for retail stores”. Only after these business needs had
been achieved would it be profitable to offer “[c]omplete satisfaction
to the purchaser for a perfectly blended décor scientifically
An Australian Colour
Council did not eventuate, partly because the co-ordination of consumer
sovereignty was in the hands of overseas corporations which passed
seasonable colours along from head office, via Paris fashion parades.
Instead of a local Colour Council, the conglomerates and industry
associations enforced its
intentions. For instance, in 1957, the Fibres Section of ICIANZ employed
a sales promotion executive, Nancy Sanders, to play “an important part
in moulding men’s tastes in suits and shirts”. According to Sanders:
is never a spontaneous demand by the public for new materials or new
fashions. Women don’t wake up in droves one morning and suddenly
decide they want a shorter skirt. The desire is planted in their minds
by the people whose business it is to change the fashions in fabrics and
styles year by year.
fibres lent themselves to a multitude of colours, Sanders’ employer
was promoting pastel shades because the stronger shades were more
expensive to produce.
The increased range of
tonings in artificial fabrics added to the pressure on wool which was
associated with a narrower and more muted spectrum. Hence, by 1958, the
Australian Wool Bureau had set up its own Wool Colour Council with
representatives from the textile associations and the retail traders.
The director of a chain of men’s wear stores was
that for the first time so many leading Australian manufacturers had
become unanimous on a promotion theme – the ‘Blues’. It would mean
nothing but good generally for the trade to have a central theme around
which to promote and merchandise.
The Wool Board’s
advisors decided on four colours for men and nine for women in the 1961
They backed their choices with promotions aimed at the trade and the
public, distributing 150,000 pieces of display material during the 1962
campaign, which achieved a success rate of “80 per cent of the
garments selected by customers this winter were chosen on colours
recommended by the Australian Wool Bureau”.
Next year, the Chairman of the Knitted Outerwear Section of the
Melbourne Chamber of Manufacturers, Mr. A. J. Brady, enthused: “This
is the best thing that ever happened to the knitwear industry”.
Mr Brady had overlooked how the expansion of demand rivaled the
direction of choice for the accolade of “best thing”.
From 1962, the U.S.
firm Pantone, began standardising colours for manufacturers. Later, it
moved onto bi-annual forecasting of trends for clothes, cosmetics and
industrial design, twenty-four months in advance of release. In 2002,
Pantone added TheRightColor to
retailers to reduce the number of returns due to inaccurate color
representation, as well as improve inventory tracking and replenishment
strategies. In addition, the ability to monitor customer color
preferences enables upselling and cross-selling, allowing the retailer
to sell more product per visit.
EXPLAIN THAT THIS USE
IS TO EXPAND DEMAND BUT WITHIN PREFERENCES EXPRESSED BY THE BUYER. ONLY
AFTER THE RANGE HAS BEEN “SOLD”.
services the major producers of consumer goods, its projection of trends
“virtually guarantees that the universe of color will become, on
schedule, a universe of products”. According to the director of
marketing at KitchenAid: “Using a forecast helps you narrow down the
choices, so you know where not to go”. A New
York Times reporter recognised that consumers “walk into a store
and see not freedom of choice, but the palettes of a year-old
prediction”. In the words of the director of Pantone’s Color
Institute: “These palettes are a guideline for consumers. Without
them, they’re going to be too confused to buy”.
The concern that marketers express for customers lest they became too
knowledgeable to spend is further evidence of the morality established
by a free market.
Post-war shortages made
it easy to sell what ever was on hand, in any shade. Blokes donned lime
or pink socks and violet cardigans: “The men who bought them were not
‘cissies’: they couldn’t get any others”.
The Chartered Accountant
attacked “[m]anagements who turn out goods haphazardly with the
assurance that the market will be there whatever their cost in waste and
After the Second World
War, the Draper of Australasia
spelt out how the channeling of choice benefited its subscribers:
an ending of rationing, the Draper
reminded makers and merchandisers that both would profit from limiting
A sellers’ market
could not remove the need to coordinate sectors of the same industry.
Green fabrics did not go well with red buttons as the director of
General Plastics Ltd recognised:
added advantage is obtained if fashion colours such as lime green, teal
blues, mauves, etc., can be matched quickly and without involving heavy
stocks which are risky whether carried by manufacturer, wholesaler or
“water-clearness” of a “Perspex” button appealed “because it
will tone into any colour. This is a big help when clothing
manufacturers cannot order colours especially if they do not know what
cloths they may be getting”.
a buyer’s market had returned by late in 1952,
businesses had again to juggle their stimulating of demand with the
channeling of taste.
Seasonal colours and
fashions serviced the need that firms have to expand to secure economies
In 1955, the Colour Consultant to Monsanto Color Styling Service, Faber
it keeps the business of production and merchandising humming, for the
style factor alone is one of the most significant causes of
obsolescences in numerous products.
annoyed retailers by failing to match the shade of the fabric or button
they supplied with that ordered from sample sheets.
Shoes for women had
become more of a problem
since skirts had risen a few centimetres to reveal their footwear.
A U.S. journal reported that, since 1914, “those women with any
pretensions to being followers of the fashion have to buy one or two
pairs of shoes not because their footwear was worn out, but in order to
be up to date”.
Marketers encouraged women to coordinate the design and colour of their
shoes with the rest of the attire:
witness declared that women’s boots and shoes were now in the same
category as millinery, and the prospect of the disappearance of
‘fashion lines’ was viewed with dismay … One manufacturer produced
over 1,200 styles of boots made in his factory, and in one shop 972
distinct styles were stocked.
By 1917, “The Big
Movement in Colour” had contributed to this plethora.
Even workmen displaying
“a tendency to wear boots made from light expensive leathers, instead
of the heavier, more serviceable, and economical varieties formerly
worn”. To bring the
demand for fashionable items by men up to the level from women, stores
had to promote the idea of something “different”. A reprint of an
article from the U.S. of A. cautioned retail buyers:
STARTThe means to
benefit from this marketing
achievement had to be learnt, as can be seen from the experience of the
Victorian Boot and Shoe Retailers’ Association. The industry was
uncertain how best to profit from an increase in total demand. Fashion
changes had forced up the costs of maintaining the range of stock.
meeting in May 1917 discussed whether fashions could be
“controlled”, either by its members or by manufacturers. An
ex-president of the Association considered the “advent of fashion
freaks and fancies” to be unprecedented: “Years ago our trade
practically consisted of staple lines, and as traders we worked on the
assurance that little risk was taken in ordering new lines”. He
welcomed the new diversity, wished to control it, yet feared that such
interference would be precluded by the lack of loyalty from traders to
their Association. Other speakers endorsed the need to manage styles
since the arrival of fashion meant that stores had to stock a larger
range even among the old staples. Manufacturers no longer supplied the
half-sizes that would go a good way to meet the demand for variety.
Instead, volumes would have to be disposed of below cost. The
storekeepers decided that responsibility for reform rested with the
manufacturers. The danger there was that if the specialist retailers
agreed on a range with the makers, the department stores would cut a
deal with some manufacturer for other styles. The meeting decided that,
though interference with fashions might be desirable, “the time is not
When the chief
executive officer of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, joined the company
in 1923, all the mass auto lines were hand-finished in enamel and
varnishes. Their application added two to four weeks to the production
time. General Motors had grown out of the du Pont Corporation where a
laboratory in 1920 created a nitro-cellulose lacquer, later branded Duco.
Next year, General Motors established a Paint and Enamel Committee,
before releasing the “True Blue” Oakland in 1924. Despite technical
difficulties, Duco’s “quick drying removed the most important remaining
bottleneck in mass production”. A car could be finished in a single
shift. A production line for 1,000 vehicles no longer required covered
parking for 18,000, some eight hectares. This cost reduction proved the
least profitable benefit for the car-makers from the new paint
By 1927, almost every
U.S. American who could afford a motor vehicle either owned one or was
paying one off. To overcome a bottleneck far greater than that caused by
hand-painting, Sloan set up an Art and Color Section as part of the
“Annual Model Change”, or planned obsolescence.
In the same year, Henry Ford ended production of his T-Model. In
Australia, the Ford Motor Company hired the artists Sydney Ure Smith,
Thea Proctor and George Lambert to devise colour schemes.
The Ford advertisements in Art in
Australia did not mention colour as an attraction until March 1930.
The style changes offered by the auto firms could not overcome the
blockage to total effective demand. Excess capacity in the automobile
industry compounded a deflationary cycle until 1940 when the Pentagon
was happy to buy vehicles of any colour so long as they were
After the war, the
price of an f.a.q. second-hand vehicle in Australia was often higher
than the recommended retail price for a brand new one, if it could be
had. The waiting time for a new Holden in May 1950 was thirty months; a
year later, would-be owners at a car show found it “difficult to
entice a salesman to take an order”. Conditions had tipped the other
direction by May 1953 when the delay was only one week.
Colour at last could become the selling point.
With the promotion of
the two- and three-tone cars from the early 1950s, the availability of
the colour of preference clinched the deal in car yards. The Australian
Motor Manual reported in January 1957 that “[o]ne of the biggest
sales tools in the new car market today is a dealer’s offer to deliver
any colour combination desired, probably more quickly than any other
feature offered in a car”.
To secure custom, dealers installed repaint shops.
This arrangement forced the cost from the sales effort down the chain
and so did not violate the logic of mass production.
DID NOT CHANNEL
The meeting of pent-up
demand by 1952 meant that businesses thereafter had to stimulate sales.
The marketing maxim became “Don’t sell paint – sell colour”.
Marketing managers promoted the repainting of “Emoh Ruo”, inside and
out, as a perennial means to express one’s personality by remaining
fashionable in accord with the strategies of the corporations. BALM set
up the first “Festival of Colour” in 1955 with the Janus aims of
encouraging customers to buy new paints, fabrics and furnishings and to
back the “trend towards standardising colour co-ordination of
components in interior decoration”.
Plastics paints proved
popular after Glazebrooks released “Spred Satin” in September 1953,
though supplies were limited by technical difficulties and a shortage of
raw materials. The ease of
application with PVA (polyvinyl acetates) meant that a householder could
apply two coats on a room in the same day.
The surface could be cleaned with water and did not need stripping back
to be redone with a different colour. Speed and lower labour costs
encouraged the home decorator to repaint a feature wall or two as the
fashion controllers managed
her choice of colours.
The technologies that
had made paint attractive also cut into its appeal. New building
materials such as aluminum and plastics did way with the need for
paints. In early 1965 the Public Relations Director of the Australian
Paint Manufactures Federation grumbled that householders had a “wealth
of more enjoyable pastimes”. Rather than paint the house, they took
trips away in the family car or watched television. The “basic plank
in our propaganda” to overcome this “general apathy to painting by
house-owners” would be to establish that “colour … is vital to
smart living and indicative of sophisticated, fashionable
The paint industry also
perceived that profits need not depend on volume but could also be
gained through margins. Higher rates could be extracted from lots of
different tints rather than from oceans of cream on exterior walls.
Indoors, the promotion of the feature wall and then the use of a
different hue on each of the other three nudged householders into buying
smaller quantities at higher prices per can. The home decorator felt it
safest to overestimate the quantities needed for each wall or door
panel. In addition, the paint firms marketed “Tiny Tins” of tints
for touching up chairs or other accessories.
The expense of expressing one’s individuality as personality with a
red front door and a buttercup letterbox was on the rise.
By the mid-Sixties, the mixing of tints by hardware stores had resulted in so vast a range that BALM’s retail manager feared a drop in sales: “The idea now is to initially promote a smaller, carefully selected, colour range, which will satisfy most customers without confusing them”. Only those shoppers who insisted that their sovereignty depended on full knowledge were to be shown the range in its thousands.
is with relief and gratitude we seem to have said farewell to the
crudity of ‘jazz’ patterned crockery in garish primary colours, a
vogue in decoration so angular and restless as to be positively
irritating, and with absolutely no sense of the serenity and charm one
looks for at a tea-table.
The sense of relief was
ingenuous. The “repose” of many a sitting-room was already being by
harassed by plastics with their redefinition of “pleasing” and
The time of colour
appeared as a moment in the age of plastics. For the retailers of
plastics goods, the explosion of colours threatened “a major inventory
headache” by tying up working
capital. From researching the 1956 pattern of sales, Monsanto identified
a “style scale” between both
retailers and their customers. For instance, self-service supermarkets,
which relied on impulse purchases, did 80 per cent of their business in
red and yellow. Variety stores also sold mostly red and yellow but
needed eight other shades for higher priced items. Hardware outlets
faced even more sophisticated tastes. Department stores could profit
from the most expensive lines in pink or turquoise. Hence, inventory
costs could be contained by catering for strata of buyers. The survey
also found that each percentile of consumers could be led through colour
preferences. The middle segment was beginning to buy pink and turquoise
while the top-end of the market was already gliding towards warm neutral
shades such as “sandalwood and tan”.
For an account of monopolising capitals see my The
Essence of Capitalism, Sceptre, Sydney, 2001, chapters 1-3.
 Elene Foster, ML
MSS 1105, 17 January 1952.
New York Times, 10
February 2002, D4.
 McQueen, The
Essence of Capitalism, chapter 14; for an early example see Hugh
Trevor-Roper, “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition
of Scotland”, Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger (eds), The
Invention of Tradition, Canto, Cambridge, 1992, pp. 23-41.
 Paul A. Baran and
Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly
Capital, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1966, chapter 5.
Journal, August 1952, p. 56; January 1953, p. 55; March 1953,
pp. 20 and 22; July 1953, p. 50; Technology
in Australia, 1788-1988, Australian Academy of Technological
Sciences and Engineering Ltd, Melbourne, 1988, pp. 716-22; Gloria
Frydman, What a life: a
biography of Paul Morawetz, Wakefield, Kent Town, 1995.