An International Guide to the Use of Color in Marketing and Advertising

An International Guide to the Use of Color in Marketing and Advertising

The Power of Color

One of the most influential factors that impacts perceptions is the use of color in marketing and advertising.

use of color in marketing and advertising-2

It can be powerfully effective in producing results that will sell and is important to consider when developing a business brand and designing advertising and product packaging.

To take it even further, if a company desires to expand internationally, the designer should consider what colors might mean for other cultures and countries. This is significant when promoting a product in places where color symbolism varies.

For example, the color red has many different meanings in other countries.

In the United States red signifies danger and is often interpreted as a signal to stop, yet it also symbolizes love and passion. However, in China red speaks of good fortune, celebration and happiness.

On the financial front, red denotes a rise in stock prices in East Asian stock markets while it reflects a drop in stock prices in North American stock markets.

In many ways these attitudes toward color are completely opposite in these different cultures.

Purple is another example.

There are vast differences in how some countries perceive this color.

use of color in marketing and advertising-10Japan looks at purple as wealth. France sees it as freedom or peace. The U.K., China and the United States understand purple as royalty. India, however, identifies this color with sorrow and unhappiness.

Yet another illustration of differences in color association can be seen in the uses of pink and blue.

While pink and blue respectively represent baby girls and boys in the USA, it is the exact opposite in Belgium. Pink is used as the color for baby boys and blue for baby girls.

Interestingly, pink is considered a very masculine color in Bermuda, and British bankers and barristers have worn pink shirts for many years.

While this is customary in those countries, pink continues to be seen as a very feminine color in the United States.

There are some cases when many countries seem to agree on the meaning of colors.

For instance, black is often associated with death or evil while white represents purity and holiness.

Red is often seen as a favorable color for marriages; brides wear red saris in India and Nepal. Japanese are often seen wearing red kimonos at weddings as symbols of happiness and good luck.

China combines black and red to express happiness in wedding invitations.

Still, this does not necessarily indicate that all countries follow the same notion of color ideas.

A Change of Color in Marketing and Advertising

In some countries, colors can represent completely different meanings even if they are popular.

Companies hoping to gain acceptance in foreign markets often will change their use of colors for the sake of the culture into which they are promoting their products and services.

McDonalds changing brand colors

For example, McDonald’s changes the colors on its website to conform to the cultural symbolism within certain countries.

In Europe, it is promoting a more eco-friendly image through its hunter green backdrop in lieu of the traditional red one we see here.

This is a simple strategy for a designer to utilize by considering the meaning of particular colors in another country when developing marketing materials through design.

The use of color in marketing and advertising communicates a message without having to use words.

use of color in marketing and advertising-13Understanding the diverse cultural perspectives on color symbolism is important to know what is or is not acceptable in a specific culture when a company’s vision is to expand beyond the borders of its own country. Without performing research in this realm, it can certainly be detrimental if it gets to the point of creating an idea about a product or company that expresses negativity and unacceptability.

As a designer, it’s important to keep cultural color symbols and meanings in mind as you develop media and materials to promote a company and reach its targeted audiences.

To help you get started on the path to success in understanding what colors mean in different parts of the world, the following illustration below provides a simple guide for color symbolism across countries and cultures.

Though this chart may not reflect the totality of color representations, it serves as an introduction to expand your knowledge of color meanings.International Color Symbolisms_Chart

Download [International Color Symbolism Chart.pdf]


Six Degrees

Six Degrees uses psycho-sensory tools and techniques to build more successful national and global brands. Brands are rooted in human perception. And our psycho-sensory approach is designed to identify deeper and richer insights from human perception and then develop brand communications that change suboptimal perceptions or reinforce the right perceptions. More than 80 percent of the information humans process is nonverbal, making it essential that brands manage the sensory signals they send out. Our people are passionate branding experts wielding powerful psycho-sensory tools to build stronger and more successful brands across the globe.

  • Mimi Hayton
    Posted at 06:37h, 16 February

    Hi! Just wondering where your research came from into the different international interpretations of each colour? And has it been validated in testing…? Thanks!

  • Pablo
    Posted at 18:29h, 03 March

    Hi. Like Mimi Hayton above I have the same question. I am interested in finding out how you acquired these insights.

    As a Belgian I am surprised to read that we use pink to represent baby boys and blue for baby girls. This runs counter to what I see in stores and how Belgian households decorate their baby boy rooms (blue) and rooms for girls (pink).

    I am currently researching the right color mix for marketing towards Japan and would be happy to learn more about the techniques you have used to identify these color associations.

  • Monica Richards
    Posted at 10:51h, 04 March

    Ditto to Mimi Hayton — and thanks for the very interesting information! :)

  • Aelee Lee
    Posted at 08:35h, 06 March

    Thank you for your interest in my blog about international color usage.

    As a designer, I always felt that there was a need for this information, but since I could not find one concise source, I decided to create a simple chart that would summarize basic international color theory. I did my own research through books, online and interviews, however colors are very subjective and their interpretation can vary by many factors such as culture, occasion, and time, so it’s difficult to validate. As I said in my blog: though this chart may not reflect the totality of color representations, I hope it serves as an introduction to expand your knowledge of color meanings.

    Thank you!

  • Diana
    Posted at 20:41h, 15 March

    Grea post, thanks for sharing your expertise

  • Arnaud
    Posted at 06:59h, 28 September

    I’m from Belgium and we have the same perception as the Americans regarding the Pink color for baby girls and blue color for baby boys … please check your sources

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