You’ve heard of localization, and you’ve definitely heard of colors…but have you heard of color localization? As it turns out, it isn’t just the words for different hues that change when you cross from one language and culture into another, but also the kinds of reactions they will tend to elicit. Color, like language, is powerfully tied to emotions and instinctive responses, making it a vital consideration for cross-cultural branding.
Color plays an integral role in our lives – it influences how we think, how we describe how we feel, and how we make choices as consumers. Studies show that the colors we use, the way they are displayed, and the way that colors are combined all affect customers. 93% of consumers say that the visual appearance of the product is the most important factor, and 85% of consumers are heavily influenced by the color of the product. When companies make decisions about how to use color in their products or brand, it’s important for them to consider how culture influences people’s perceptions of color.
In Western culture, red symbolizes energy, passion, action, love and danger. In India, red is associated with purity, sensuality, and spirituality. It is considered lucky in Egypt, and is associated with death in some African countries.
In Chinese culture, red symbolizes luck, joy, prosperity, celebration, and happiness. Red envelopes containing money – called hong bao – are given out during holidays and special occasions.
In the Netherlands, orange is the color of the Dutch Royal family. In Eastern cultures, orange symbolizes love, happiness, humility, and good health – which is why Buddhist monks’ robes are often orange. Orange in Western cultures represents autumn and warmth.
In Germany, yellow represents envy, whereas in Western cultures, yellow is associated with happiness, optimism, joy, warmth, and hope.
In the West, green represents luck, nature, freshness, wealth, inexperience, and jealousy. It is the national color in Mexico where it stands for independence. In the Middle East, green represents fertility, luck, and wealth and is considered the traditional color of Islam. In Eastern cultures, green symbolizes youth, fertility, new life, but also infidelity.
Blue has positive associations around the world and is considered the safest color choice around the world. It represents trust, security, and authority in North America and Europe, and is considered soothing and peaceful, although it can also represent sadness and loneliness.
In some countries, blue symbolizes healing which can be seen in the blue eye shaped amulets, which are believed to protect against the evil eye in Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan, and Albania. In Hinduism, blue is associated with Krishna, who embodies love and divine joy, and in some Eastern cultures, blue symbolizes immortality.
Historically, only the highest ranked Buddhist monks wore purple robes. Purple is a color that is often associated with royalty, wealth, spirituality, and nobility. In Catholicism, it is also used to represent penitence. In Brazil and Thailand, however, purple is the color of mourning.
Black often symbolizes sophistication and formality but generally represents death, evil, mourning, magic, illness, or mystery. In the Middle East, black can represent rebirth and mourning.
In China, Korea, and a few other Asian countries, white represents death, mourning, and bad luck. This stands in stark contrast to its Western symbolism, where the color is associated with purity, peace, and cleanliness. In Western countries, brides traditionally wear white dresses at their weddings.
Different colors may be associated with different concepts which are incredibly important to brand perception including: trust, security, speed, cheapness, and fear. In Western culture, combining warm colors like red, orange, and yellow, results in a perception of urgency which may appeal to impulse buyers, whereas using cool colors, light blues, pink, and navy, may appeal to budget conscious shoppers who tend to remain calm while thinking through decisions.
As companies become more global, it can be beneficial to understand the cross-cultural meanings of colors. When companies create a brand, product, user interface, or platform with a global audience in mind, they should consider the symbolism of different colors around the world. Whereas a color can mean something innocent in one culture, using it in the same context in another can offend people and cause misunderstandings. By using colors and color combinations to your advantage, you will be able to speak to your audience in a way that’s both culturally appropriate and effective.