How color affects our lives is well known. And throughout history color has been used to depict feelings, emotions, and state of mind, using different colors, and essentially… in short, color has been used as a medium of communication. Egyptians and Mayans were known as civilizations that used a wide palette of color, especially bright ones.
In China [Left], white is associated with mourning and death, while in the West [Right] white depicts bravery and machoism. Intercultural understanding of color is CRUCIAL in doing global business, avoiding unnecessary cultural faux pas, and building brands.
But what many don’t realize is that colors DON’T always translate across cultures! For example, the color white that is almost always associated with weddings in the West, does not carry the same meaning in China, where white is used for funerals, and red is the culturally-correct color in weddings. Red is considered auspicious and the bearer of good fortune and luck, and therefore Chinese weddings are painted red.
White, on the other hand, is associated with death in China, and is used when in mourning at funerals. Whereas the color red in the West is mostly associated with a state of alarm, danger, caution, machoism and bravado. It is no incident that Matador bull fights are closely associated with the color red.
Colors can therefore, literally mean the difference between the celebration of life or death! Please click on the following links to my other articles related to this subject, “The Role of Color“, “The Color Red Never Fails to Make a Statement“, and “The same color can mean the difference of life and death“.
Colors have deep symbolic meanings across all cultures, some are reserved for royalty, while others are simply taboo. Therefore understanding the role of color from an ethnographic perspective is key to understanding the culture, and equally important in doing business and building brands in different cultures.
An article I stumbled upon in Every Joe on this subject provides more info on colors and how they differ among countries.
Colors are an integral part of a brand strategy. The color palette chosen to represent your brand can subconsciously communicate a variety of messages, and it’s been proven through market research that color directly impacts consumers.
With that in mind, I’ve been looking for a good source to provide some insight into the psychology of color internationally. For example, a color could convey happiness in the United States but mourning in another country. If yours is an international brand, its essential that you consider color meanings throughout the world before you choose the color palette to be used in your logo, marketing materials, etc.
To illustrate my point, following is a list of colors and their cultural meanings in different countries throughout the world adapted from Foundations of Marketing by Jonathan Groucutt:
- Good luck and fortune: China and parts of Africa
- Danger, warning/alert: Europe, America and Australia/New Zealand
- Masculinity: Parts of Europe
- Mourning (dark red): Ivory Coast
- Death: Turkey
- Immortality: Iran
- Mourning: Brazil
- Symbol of expense: Asian cultures
- Organic foods, freshness, environmentally friendly, good health: Many Western nations
- High-tech: Japan
- Luck: Middle East
- A forbidden color: Indonesia
- Death: South America and countries with dense jungle areas
- Feminine: United States and many countries
- Mourning: Mexico
- Strength and reliability: Saudi Arabia
- Feminine: United States
- Mourning as well as style and elegance: Most Western nations
- Trust and high quality: China
- Mourning: Japan and other Far Eastern nations
- Cleanliness and purity: Western nations
- Disapproval: Nicaragua
Inspiration: Every Joe