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

Color Symbolisms

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

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One of the most influential factors that impacts perceptions in advertising, branding or marketing media is color. 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. Japan 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. 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. 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.

McDonalds
Color communicates a message without having to use words. Understanding 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 is 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 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.

Download [International Color Symbolism Chart.pdf]

International Color Symbolisms_Chart

Aelee Lee
alee@six-degrees.com

As a passionate graphic design professional with more than 12 years of experience, Aelee brings a special blend of creative and technical skills to her work. She has received art and design training in France and Italy, taught digital media arts as a full-time professor in Florida and has worked on everything from strategic startups to numerous Fortune 500 companies in both B2B and B2C. Her skills include branding and identity, app/icon design, marketing collateral, advertising, packaging, Web/app interface design and more. Aelee holds a master’s degree in graphic design.



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