For almost half a century, Ohio-based Owens Corning has been associated with the color pink. It seemed like a natural fit when the company chose the famous cartoon character, the Pink Panther, as its official mascot. The story of this unusual partnership is one that brings together Hollywood studios, a Midwestern manufacturing company and unique patent law decisions.
A Glass Company Grows
It was formed as a 1935 partnership between two glass manufacturers. Corning Glass Works made glass parts for cookware and kitchen appliances, and Owens Illinois made glass containers. The new company focused on creating industrial materials and fiberglass products. By 1938, Owens Corning was making more than $1 million in sales. It has been a Fortune 500 company every year since the list first appeared in 1955.
In 1966, Owens Corning joined forces with Armstrong Rubber Company to produce tires reinforced with fiberglass. By 1971, the company’s annual revenue was over $500 million. In 1977, Owens Corning bought the Frye Roofing Company. This launched a massive venture to replace traditional roofing materials with new, fiberglass-reinforced roofing shingles. By 1976, Owens Corning had sales of more than $1 billion.
These were staggering figures for the time, and they cemented Owens Corning’s position as the leading producer of roofing and building materials.
That position has not budged in all these decades. Still based in Toledo, Ohio, Owens Corning had sales of $7.2 billion in 2019. The company employs 19,000 people in 37 countries.
Owens Corning has invented innovative products that made it an industry leader. In 1945, it produced the first fiberglass-reinforced plastic car body. General Motors would later use this material to build the Chevrolet Corvette. In 1954, the company invented a process to make fiberglass insulation using a centrifuge to spin the fiberglass wool. This process is now the industry standard.
The company stands out for another reason. Owens Corning has long been known for its distinctive pink-colored insulation.
Choosing to Go Pink
In 1955, Owens Corning began using its roofing material to create room insulation. It developed the industry’s first all-fiber insulation. At the time, most insulation on the market was white or yellow. Owens Corning wanted to stand out from the crowd, and one way to do this was to add red dye to the fiberglass.
The fiberglass didn’t turn red, however. It turned bright pink. Owens Corning executives decided they would use the accidental pink insulation temporarily. It would be an easy way to distinguish their product from others. They never intended to keep it pink and fully expected to return to yellow or white.
Asking for the the Pink Stuff
It surprised them to see that contractors and installers routinely began asking for “the pink insulation.” That’s when the company realized it had stumbled on a brilliant marketing plan.
In the 1970s, Owens Corning began using the slogan, “Put your house in the pink.” In 1985, it became the first company in American history to trademark a color.
In granting the trademark to Owens Corning, the court found a company can trademark a color in very specific circumstances.
The company must show that the color:
- Distinguishes the company from its competitors.
- Doesn’t affect the product’s cost or quality.
- Doesn’t serve a functional purpose.
Proving all three elements is difficult, which is why only a few companies have trademarked single colors.
Trademarking color combinations has been easier to achieve, for instance, McDonald’s has trademarked its red and yellow color scheme when they accompany its logos. Owens Corning was the groundbreaker in registering a trademark for its distinctive pink color.
Enter the Pink Panther
It’s only natural that Owens Corning would join forces with a wildly popular pink celebrity.
The Pink Panther was a star in his own right. In 1964, animators Friz Freleng and David Depatie created the character for an animated short that opened the movie The Pink Panther. The movie starred Peter Sellers as a bumbling detective. The movie was a hit, and so was the animated panther. Six more movies followed, and the Pink Panther opened each one.
The Pink Panther cartoon debuted as a solo show in 1969. The cartoon aimed at children soon developed a huge following. In 1980, Owens Corning signed a deal with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, who owned the rights to the Pink Panther. Under the deal, the company would use the panther in its marketing for the company’s pink insulation.
A Successful Partnership
In August 2020, Owens Corning issued a press release celebrating the long partnership between two famous pink figures.
“The relationship between Owens Corning and the Pink Panther is nothing short of remarkable,” said Suzanne Harnett, Owens Corning’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs. “For 40 years, the Pink Panther has been a smart and stylish ambassador for our company, speaking persuasively to our brand promise despite never uttering a word.”
Owens Corning’s embrace of its pink identity shows the importance of maintaining a consistent, easily identifiable image. Today, contractors choose the pink products five times more often than they choose any other brand.
Defending Its Trademarks
As the first company to trademark a color, Owens Corning has also been on the frontline of legal battles over trademark law. In 2011, for instance, the company filed a suit against Kingspan Insulation, a UK company that sold pink-colored insulation and building materials.
Owens Corning has been associated with a single color ever since a mistake turned its insulation pink. Helped by a well-known pink mascot, the company’s future looks like it will continue to be rosy.