Few of Kansas State’s trademarks or brands are as revered as the institution that boasts it’s signature color — royal purple.
The university’s students, faculty, administration and alumni all rally around the color.
“They know right away what our school colors are,” President Richard Myers said. “They say not many places are like this, and not many places are this passionate about what we do.”
In recent years, the university has analyzed K-State’s purple and standardized guidelines for its use in the university’s brand guide, which gives instructions on how the university’s logos, trademarks, artwork and colors should be used to ensure consistency.
“I came in 2010 and we had multiple brand guides for multiple areas,” said Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, said. “We had about six different, official purple (colors), so we got our teams together, and said ‘OK, let’s pick one,’” Morris said.
The final choice utilized the Pantone color-matching system and set a standard.
“The most-used was Pantone 268, which was our unofficial purple that other people had sort of adopted over time,” Morris said. “We said, from now on, there’s one official purple.”
Protecting the color
Representatives from five or six university departments gather regularly to involve themselves with protecting the color and to project a clear and unified university brand, Morris said.
“There’s one voice and one purple,” Morris said. “That group really is comprised of the people that are most likely to do out-bound communications.”
Lizzi Petite, admissions representative, said both Admissions and New Student Services benefit from a consistent brand.
“Everything has got some piece of purple to it, and I think that (a consistent color) not only helps us to be recognizable, but also allows us the opportunity to share that pride that we have,” Petite said. “Then when we say we’re a family, we’re all sharing the same message.”
Petite said the color purple dominates most admission representatives’ attire.
“(Having to wear purple) is not written into our job description,” Petite said. “We all graduated from K-State. We love this school. We want to represent it well, and representing it well means wearing our colors and being proud.”
Growing up purple
Many K-State families encourage adopting that (purple) pride from a young age, Morris said.
“My granddaughter goes, ‘Papa, do you have any shirts in your closet that aren’t purple?’ I said, ‘White ones that I wear purple ties with,’” Morris said.
Morris illustrated how passionate some K-State alumni are about the color purple.
“We laugh sometimes because if you’re a K-Stater, a lot of times you go home from the hospital (after birth) in purple,” Morris said. “We start young here.”
From football to students, purple lives on
Morris said he envisions a continued focus on a single purple, and he credits some of the original momentum for the branding consistency to head football coach Bill Snyder, who has been “very consistent” with the color within the football program.
“I think a lot of it ties back to when Bill Snyder came to K-State and how important it was to have the uniforms look a certain way and the jerseys be purple,” Morris said.
Petite said branding consistency in the admissions department is important for representing the university professionally.
“Depending on who’s sending the message — whether it is an admissions representative, alumni or current student reaching out to a prospective student — I think the one thing that we all are consistent on is in the way that we sign off our messages,” Petite said.
Petite said “Go Cats!” and “K-State Proud” are commonly used phrases. Hand-written communications from Admissions and New Student Services are also always written with purple pens, Petite said.
“If we’re writing notes, it’s in purple ink,” Petite said. “If we ask alumni or students to write notes, it’s in purple ink. The consistency there I think is so important … Without realizing it, families will accumulate two or three notes and then realize, ‘Wow! Everything is in purple.’”
Elizabeth Hall, sophomore in information systems, said she also uses purple pens as an ambassador for the College of Engineering.
“In engineering ambassadors, we almost exclusively use purple pens to write notes to potential students,” Hall said.
Morris said the university has more relaxed standards for apparel due to the cyclical nature of fashion trends in apparel.
“For one, apparel doesn’t last,” Morris said. “Second, if everything is the same color, no one would buy it. So you get different shades, and we’re fine with that because we just want people wearing purple. We tend to be a lot more liberal, also, because fashion changes what people want, so we want stuff that’s going to sell (and) that people are going to buy and wear.”
At the same time, Morris said the university is more strict with items such as signs.
“If you’re going to do signage or something more permanent, then we’re going to want to make sure you’re using the exact colors,” Morris said.
According to trademark law, an institution must monitor and regulate usage of their trademarks in order for them to be valid.
“One of the things we found when I got here is when you let people do whatever they want, the way trademark (law) works is you can trademark the Powercat and you can trademark a color, but you have to be consistent in your use and you have to demonstrate institutional control,” Morris said.
“If you can come in and find all these different ways that people are using your marks or your colors, then if somebody else were to use that, you lose the right to go tell them they can’t,” Morris continued. “Our trademarks generate lots of money for this university and fund lots of scholarships.”
Morris said he feels a personal connection to the color.
“By my definition, it’s more than a color,” Morris said. “By my definition, purple is a way of life … It’s really something that ties the K-State family together.”