The 2017 Boat Race
More than 250,000 are expected to line the banks of the River Thames this Sunday as two of the world’s most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge go bow to bow in the annual Boat Race. A further 15 million or more will watch the whole race unfold on TV. The race is rowed between eights on a stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake covering a distance of 4.2 miles (6.8km). Since 2015 the race has been known as the University Boat Race and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. This year the race will adopt the title of “The BNY Mellon Boat Race”, as its current sponsors have donated all sponsorship money to Cancer Research UK.
The tradition was started by Charles Merivale, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge, and his old school friend from Harrow, Charles Wordsworth who was studying at Christ Church, Oxford. The battle first took place in 1829 at Henley-on-Thames and apart from the World War years, the event has continued annually since 1856. The second race was in 1836 starting from Westminster and ending in Putney, but there was disagreement over the next couple of years as to where the race should be held – Oxford preferred Henley and Cambridge preferred London. But once the Oxford University Boat Club was formed in 1839, the annual Boat Race resumed from Tideway with the loser challenging the winner every year to a rematch.
Oxford Blue is the official colour of Oxford University and the brand guidelines specify it as Pantone 282. The original colour was chosen by two members of the 1829 Oxford boat crew, and because five members of the crew, including the stroke, were from Christ Church, then Head of the River, whose colours were dark blue, the ‘Dark Blues’ of Oxford were born. Oxford Blue is strongly associated with the University of Oxford, especially their official sports teams who are also called Oxford Blue.
Cambridge Blue is the official colour of Cambridge University and the style guide defines Cambridge Blue as Pantone 557. This colour is commonly used by their sports teams, but there is considerable dispute regarding the correct shade. The colour used by Cambridge University Boat Club was created by Alf Twinn by adding more yellow, which is inconsistent with the blue used by their rugby union team.
Based on the uncertainty of colour of the Cambridge University brand, you’d crew with Oxford every time. Maintaining colour consistency is a vital element of branding and the shade you select is a crucial part of brand recognition. Colour can increase brand identification which helps boost sales and engagement. Therefore it is crucial that your colour, or colours remain consistent across all media and all brand touch points, both on and offline. And what a lot of people don’t understand is that colour does not render itself 100% accurately across different platforms, mobile devices, PC’s, Macs, printers, papers, boards and substrates which is what we creatives have to factor in when creating a brand. Inks react differently on uncoated and coated papers and solid Pantone colours will not look the same when separated into CMYK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Black) and printed using a traditional litho press. The same colour will look different when printed using a digital press or viewed digitally in RGB (Red, Green, Blue) online. For instance the Cambridge Blue paddle above will also look different on my Mac screen than how you are viewing it, as my screen maybe larger and of a higher resolution. Managing colour consistency is somewhat complex, so we have to adjust the colour accordingly to what print process is going to be used or what platform, but there has to be a degree tolerance. This process is not always automated, it is done by experienced creative eyes. Sometimes we may be lucky and a colour will convert from one process to another without the need to adjust the colour percentages. Regularity in colour plays an enormous part in promoting brand consistency which is key to making a brand enduring and memorable.
So what blue are you?
Just for the record, since 2016, and despite inconsistency of colour, Cambridge University have been more consistent in performance with 82 wins over Oxford’s 79. So my money is on Cambridge, but I’m a little uncertain ; ) Come on you blues, whatever the shade!