When you see the colour black, what do you think of? Death? Funerals? Johnny Cash? The answer depends, in part, on where you’re from. And that means the colours you use on your website and in your advertisements can affect the message your international audience receives, in ways you might not intend.
How well does your business colour scheme translate? Find out with our international marketing cheat sheet to colour meanings around the world:
It’s the colour of blood, the colour of wine, and the colour of rubies. In any culture, red is an attention-getter, and there’s probably a reason for that. According to the BBC, “Wearing red can change your physiology and balance of hormones and alter your performance in a football match.”
But what kind of attention will red attract for your business? That depends in part on where you’re marketing.
- Western Cultures (The US and Western Europe): Love, passion, and danger. Red is a youthful, energetic colour.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: Most Asian cultures associate red with luck, long life, and happiness. Brides often get married in red dresses to ensure a happy marriage. In India specifically, it also brings to mind purity, love, beauty, wealth and power.
- Middle East: Danger and caution, but sometimes with threatening overtones.
- Latin America: In Latin America, red means passion, but can also symbolize Christianity when used alongside white.
- South Africa: In South Africa, red also represents sacrifice and mourning.
Orange is the colour of firelight, and of leaves in the fall. However, it has a variety of meanings around the world, and some of them are much less comforting.
- Western cultures: Orange is the colour of fall and the harvest. It also symbolizes affordability. In Northern Ireland, though, it’s the colour of the Protestants. It’s also the national colour of the Netherlands, where it’s associated with royalty. For brands, it’s a kid-friendly, fun colour that appeals to impulse buyers.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: Saffron orange is sacred in India, as well as other cultures with strong Hindu or Buddhist presences. In Japan and China, it symbolizes courage, happiness, prosperity and good health.
- Middle East: Danger, mourning, and loss.
- Latin America: Orange is associated with the sun and the earth.
Yellow is the colour of sunlight. Brands like IKEA, Lipton and McDonald’s use yellow to give their logos an optimistic, happy vibe. . . but those associations are far from universal.
- Western cultures: In most Western cultures, yellow bring to mind the warmth of the sun. It’s a summer colour, and can also indicate hospitality. However, in France and Germany, it is sometimes associated with envy.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: Yellow also has mostly positive associations in most Asian cultures. In Japan, it is a royal colour that represents courage and prosperity. In Thailand, it is a lucky colour associated with the recently deceased King Bhumibol. However, in China, it is associated with pornography.
- Middle East: In Egypt, yellow is the colour of mourning. However, it generally has more positive connotations for the rest of the region.
- Latin America: Yellow symbolizes mourning in Latin America, as well.
- Africa: In Africa, yellow is the colour of wealth and status.
Green is the colour of grass and leaves, which is why it often represents nature. It’s usually considered a calming colour. The line between blue and green can be difficult to draw, though, and in some languages, it’s not named as a separate colour.
- Western cultures: In Western cultures, green often connotes jealousy. However, because of its association with Ireland and four-leaf clovers, it also brings to mind luck. And because a green traffic light means go, it can symbolize progress. Green is also used in marketing to indicate environmental awareness.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: Green represents nature, fertility, and youth in most eastern cultures. However, in China it also indicates infidelity.
- Middle East: In the Middle East, too, green indicates fertility, money, and good fortune. Equally important, it’s also the colour of Islam.
- Latin/South America: In Mexico, green is the national colour and is considered patriotic. However, green is also the colour of death in some Latin and South American countries.
Calm, tranquil blue is a favourite colour for international brands. Although its meanings vary across cultures, they are almost universally positive.
- Western cultures: Blue represents trust and authority. It’s associated with tranquillity, but also with sadness.
- Eastern cultures: Blue indicates immortality, healing, and relaxation in Asian cultures. In India, it is the colour of Krishna and connotes strength.
- Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan, and Albania: In these countries, blue amulets ward off evil.
- Middle East: Safety, protection, and spirituality. However, it can also indicate mourning.
- Latin and South America: In Mexico, blue can indicate mourning.
Because purple dye was historically expensive to produce, it is often associated with wealth.
- Western cultures: Purple represents royalty, wealth, and fame. However, in some parts of Europe, it’s associated with death.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: Purple also represents nobility in most Asian cultures. However, it’s a symbol of mourning in Thailand.
- Middle East: Here again, purple represents wealth.
- Latin America and South America: In Brazil, purple indicates mourning or death.
- Africa: Purple is also a symbol of royalty and wealth in Africa.
What about black? All of the colours of the rainbow mixed together, turning into the colour of night, darkness, and shadows. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the colour black has so many symbolic meanings around the world.
- Western cultures: In Western cultures, black can indicate sophistication and formality. However, it’s also the primary colour of death, mourning, and funerals. Black brings to mind darkness and sometimes evil.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: In China, black is the colour for young boys. It has other positive connotations, like good health and prosperity. In Japan, it symbolizes mystery and feminine energy. In India, it can symbolize evil, rebellion, or death.
- Latin America/South America: Black indicates masculinity, and is also used for mourning.
- Middle East: In the Middle East, black indicates evil, mystery, and mourning. However, it may also indicate rebirth.
- Africa: Black indicates maturity and masculinity in some African cultures.
White is most commonly used as a background colour, with no significance of its own. That said, it’s still worth looking at what it means in different cultures.
- Western cultures: White symbolizes purity, innocence, goodness and peace. However, in Italy, it is also traditionally used for funerals.
- Eastern/Asian cultures: In most Eastern cultures, white indicates death and mourning, as well as unhappiness and misfortune.
- Middle East: White brings to mind both purity and mourning in the Middle East.
- Latin America/South America: In Latin and South America, white also indicates peace
- Africa: In Africa, white symbolizes peace, purity, goodness and good luck. However, in Ethiopia it also indicates illness.
These are all just general guidelines. Knowing your audience is key, as always. Culture is a huge part of that, but it’s not always the whole story.