It’s hard to give a new phone a new brand name, but Samsung has proven it’s even harder to name a phone color. While the company has left behind its ignominious history of foul phone names (the 'Samsung Galaxy SII, Epic 4G Touch on Sprint' being possibly the worst ever), recent leaks concerning Galaxy S23 colorways and branding show that it may run into new trouble with something as innocuous as beige.
That’s right, there will likely be a beige Galaxy S23 (and Galaxy S23+ and Galaxy S23 Ultra), as well as beige accessories including cases and earbuds to match. Of course, beige itself is a terrible color, being synonymous with boring, neutral, and nondescript. Samsung needed a better name for this color. A name with more excitement. How to make beige exciting is indeed a conundrum.
I'm about to use the 'M' word, you've been warned
Let me suggest a mental exercise. You’re launching a major flagship consumer product. What’s the worst synonym for beige you could imagine? Let’s start with the worst word ever. The worst word ever is 'moist' [ed: I don’t hate 'moist'].
Moist has a visceral, sticky, forced intimacy that makes it immediately repulsive to many people. It is dirty in a way that is not apparent. In fact, the explanation for why 'moist' is a dirty word makes it an even dirtier word. Now let’s do the same thing to 'beige.'
Enter Samsung, and rumors that the Galaxy S23 would be branded with a 'cream' color. Cream presents its own uniquely scintillating etymology. Sure, at its most humble, cream is what rises to the top. It is the richest part of the milking. It is the best part of the crop. Cream is good.
Did you know that cream is also a dirty word? I didn’t know that cream had naughty connotations either, until I was in the musical Grease (check it out on Paramount Plus if you don’t know) in middle school. In the middle of the song 'Greased Lightning,' we were asked to skip over the word. Just don’t sing it, Kenickie. Why? You’re going to need to do that research on your own, just as I did in middle school.
A few years later, my high school production was also asked to skip the word in the song, but we sang it loudly instead. That tells you everything you need to know … except that this all happened more than thirty years ago. Surely the vernacular has moved on from what was considered risque in a play written in 1971!
Picking a problematic new name
Leakers now differ on the color brand name. Instead of risking the 'cream' moniker, it seems that Samsung has taken up a new phrase. The beige Galaxy S23 will be called 'Cotton Flower.' Face, meet palm.
Have you seen cotton? As Samsung keeps a major presence in Texas, a cotton-growing state in the American South, I’m sure that somebody in Samsung Marketing has seen cotton. Cotton flowers are beige, but that is not what most people see when they imagine cotton.
When you look at cotton you see the puffy 'boll' of the plant. That is white – very white. If you drive past a field of cotton late in the season, you may think you’ve caught an early snow.
Most people think the boll is the flower, but there is a separate flower on the plant, and that flower is a bit beige. Samsung has named its color accurately, but it used the wrong part of the plant. It used the part nobody thinks about.
To avoid being called boring, or beige, Samsung has instead associated itself with 'cotton.' It’s not technically inaccurate, but it is weird and a bit problematic. Using 'cotton' as a label for beige ignores too much. It ignores the fact that cotton is normally seen as 'white,' and just that ignorance alone creates a tainted and charged space that is too much for the branding to bear.
Cotton is not an apolitical topic. Cotton has a tainted history, especially in the US. We don’t need to see cotton as always politically charged, because it is also a hugely important agricultural export. It is when manufacturers use 'cotton' and its associations for branding purposes that we need to be especially careful.
It is one thing to talk about cotton as a product and part of our fabric, lives and economy. It is another thing to rest your brand on the color of cotton, the billowing, poetic imagery that 'cotton flower' engenders, while ignoring key truths about the emotion that metaphor creates.
It’s a problem to make 'cotton' a stand-in for off-whiteness. It isn’t just an inaccurate representation of the way we associate cotton with color. It carries baggage that Samsung never intended, and which doesn't belong in a phone brand.
A great name can make a color seem cooler
To understand how we got to a warm-white Samsung Galaxy S23 that has been alternately called beige, 'cream,' and now likely 'cotton flower,' we need to understand phantoms. If Samsung wants to launch a phone in black, but it also wants a bit of trademark attached to that specific shade, it needs a proper name. Samsung can’t just trademark 'black,' but 'Phantom Black' is a brand, not a color.
These color names also create brand loyalty, if a color is especially popular. Samsung put plenty of effort into branding its 'Bora Purple.' As 'Bora' means 'Purple' in Korean, this is a very purple purple. It’s easy to imagine Samsung excitedly announcing new Bora Purple colorways for future Galaxy S23 updates and rumored Galaxy Z Fold 5 phones, making the color a signature in the way Ferrari makes 'Rosso Corsa' a signature of the brand.
I’m all for color branding. It helps everyone, from consumers looking for the right smartphone to resellers trying to keep that phone in stock. I happily grin and tell people about my 'Bora' purple flip phone and matching earbuds, reciting Samsung’s brand names by rote. Bora is a fun name. Cotton? Cream? I’d rather avoid that weird hassle.
I don’t want to associate my next beige phone with cotton flowers, and I don’t want to have to explain why my beige is actually cream. Samsung needs a better, more innocuous brand for its next off-white phone, or I’m afraid I’m just going to tell everyone I got my phone to match my khakis.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.