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Ariana Alfonso didn’t expect her August 2023 TikTok video to go viral. But to her surprise, its message reverberated far and wide, drawing over a million eyes. The hot topic? Challenging the integrity of Pantone’s revered color of the year selection. Since 2000, this annual announcement has become the design world’s equivalent of the Super Bowl. Its purpose: to predict the next big color trend for eager masses — and witness its inevitable takeover.

Alfonso wasn’t sold. In her now-viral video, the 34-year-old tech sales rep proposed that the color of the year is swayed by the invisible hand of Big Tech conglomerates. True to conspiratorial discourse, commentators ate up her speculation with gusto.

“I believe that Pantone is selling the color of the year, and I really do stand by my guts on that one,” she says. Boldly drawing a connection between Pantone’s color and strategic colors favored by tech giants, Alfonso ties Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year — “Greenery” — to Android’s contentious green text bubbles. She claims it’s a calculated attempt to weave the hue into our digital vernacular, making it as familiar and accepted as the blue used by iPhone for messages.

So, is there any truth to it? That’s the million-dollar question, veiled in top-secret evidence and a whole lot of merchandise. There’s no PDF brimming with hard data or survey findings, merely a plethora of people asking us to take their word.

Among them is Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. She’s an integral part of the team that chooses the annual hue — and well-accustomed to the whispers.

“One [rumor] that’s always comical to me is that we’re a mysterious cabal that meets in a shadowy, dark place nobody can get to,” she says. “Nothing could be further from the truth, but it always tickles me to think of us all dressed in black and dredging this color up from the depths of a well.”

This year’s Pantone color — “Peach Fuzz”— is whimsically described on the company’s website as “a gentle, velvety peach tone whose all-embracing spirit enriches mind, body and soul.” Eiseman insists that the description isn’t merely poetic; it’s grounded in solid evidence, influenced by everything from art and fashion to sporting events and technology.

“It’s not just a feeling,” Eiseman continues. “We are constantly gathering information. Since we choose the color a year ahead of time — in the spring — our goal is to pick a hue that we think is pertinent to the world ahead of us.”

Elusive as that might sound, Eiseman’s word carries weight. After all, she’s also a key player in the Color Marketing Group, a non-profit that predicts global color trends a whopping two years in advance.

“Color forecasters do not create trends,” insists CMG President Peggy Van Allen. “We are observers and analysts. We use our research into consumers’ behaviors to predict what we think their mindset will be in regards to CMF preferences in the coming years.”

Their selection process isn’t as tight-lipped as Pantone’s. Each year, the association holds a two-day brainstorming session to forecast 16 colors for each of four regions: North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Last year, 164 participants shared their color visions via PowerPoint presentations, before diving into lively group discussions. This all builds up to the World Color Forecast reveal — an event similar to Pantone’s, but with less mainstream hurrah.

To be clear, Pantone and CMG are different entities, but they’re both in the crystal ball business when it comes to color. And one thing’s for sure: the for-profit aspect is certainly cashing in, fueled by aggressive marketing campaigns across all consumer categories: Electronics! Home furnishings! Sneakers!

Fashion stylist and brand consultant Ann Caruso arches an eyebrow at the idea of a color conspiracy. But she is quick to confirm that the color of the year is used for consumer products and designs for clients like phone companies, rugs, interior design [and] packaging for brands. “Some brands will renew their look every year if they have the funds,” she says.

And she’s right on the money. Eiseman admits that brands do wield some influence — but not to the extent Alfonso claims. Among them: footwear brand Cariuma. “Thankfully, we do get a sneak peek, and we are able to know what’s coming before anyone else,” says co-founder Fernando Porto. His company has partnered with Pantone since 2020, annually releasing sneakers clad in the must-have hue. And it’s been a wild success. “In the last four years, we have sold over 50,000 pairs of Cariuma X Pantone sneakers,” he says.

Motorola is cashing in, too, though the brand denies having any influence over the color selection. “We have an exclusive partnership with Pantone through which we leverage their expertise in trending, forecasting, market research and color psychology to bring strategic color choices to our portfolio of smartphone devices,” says a brand representative. (Translation: You can snag a Peach Fuzz-colored Razr for a cool $1,000.)

The color of the year’s impact is fast and intense — and that’s by design. “The goal of the program,” as spelled out on Pantone’s website, “is to help companies and consumers better understand the power that color can have.” A Big-Tech sellout? Probably not. A brilliant marketing move? Absolutely.

Alfonso’s theory sparked a frenzy in the comments section, with quips ranging from “biggest stretch lol” to “she’s onto something.” Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, one thing’s for certain: the color of the year conspiracy will provide juicy fodder for debate at your next dinner party.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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