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Holi Festival colours in the air

The diversity of colour meanings in other cultures

Understand how people across the world feel vastly varying emotions when looking at the same colours.

It is clear that choosing a global brand name or product name is a venture that is fraught with dangers. You certainly don’t want to choose a name that translates as a gutter-level insult or an embarrassing bodily function, do you?

Yet, many companies under-estimate the importance of choosing the right colours to represent their brand abroad as well. So, which colours are best used or avoided in certain places?

Yellow for warmth and happiness

Yellow Colours in Culture

A good example of how a colour can mean different things comes with yellow. While this is seen as being warm and happy in most Western Cultures, it is the colour of envy in Germany. In France it can be seen as meaning weakness and betrayal.

In Egypt yellow signifies happiness and good fortune while in China it is the colour that represents harmony and in Thailand it is a lucky colour. All in all, it is one of the colours that is least likely to upset anyone, unless they hate the Simpsons or are allergic to bananas.

Blue for a safe choice

Blue Colours in Culture

This is another safe choice of brand colour in most parts of the planet. Although it is often associated with sadness, blue doesn’t have many negative cultural connotations in different parts of the world. This is presumably why so many global brands use blue in their logos.

Having said that, Pepsi Cola ran into problems in South East Asia when they changed their vending machines to a light shade of blue that is commonly linked to death and mourning there. However, in other parts of the world it is seen as being a peaceful, healthy colour. It can even repel evil and offer protection in some Arab and Mediterranean cultures, especially in the form of a blue talisman to ward off evil eye curses.

Red for excitement and happiness

Red Colours in Culture

Red is the most exciting colour, isn’t it? It is the colour of love, danger, high emotions, danger, heat and…err…tomatoes. In many different cultures it is all about good luck, prosperity and happiness. What’s not to like about red? This is the colour that is often accompanied by a vibrant sounds and some sensual images.

Well, if you are dealing with African countries then it can be associated with death and aggression there. It is classed as the colour of mourning in South Africa, while in Russia it is strongly linked to communism. This is a powerful colour that stokes emotions and need to be used carefully in any country or culture.

White means purity, but mourning as well

White Colours in Culture

Could a switch to pure and simple white be a good move? In Western countries this colour is used to represent the purity and elegance of a new bride. On the other hand, Korea is one of several countries where it is used for mourning purposes. White is linked to death and bad luck across much of Asia.

It is also a colour that makes us think of the basics in life. A white feather or a white flag can also mean cowardice or surrender too. In Japan white means sacred and pure but in India it can bring to mind the cycle of death and rebirth. At the opposite end of the scale, black is seen is bringing bad luck in India. This is why a Japanese company had to change the colour of their scooters from black in India, as no-one wanted to buy an unlucky scooter.

Green for good luck and nature

Green Colours in Culture

For a lot of Western cultures green means good luck, nature and environmentally friendly. Just imagine a cheeky Irish leprechaun or a beautiful tree to see a couple of the positive ways that this colour can be used and why it is so popular in brand logos. If you are doing a video translation then a green theme is likely to convey similar themes and ideas in most countries.

Green is the national colour of Mexico and Ireland (interesting fact alert: the official state colour of Ireland is actually blue) and is also the traditional colour associated with Islam.

On the other hand, it can be linked to infidelity in China as well as to jealousy in other cultures. Overall, this colour is unlikely to offend in too many places, although you might want to be careful about making Chinese couples worry too much about why their partners are using your bold green product.

Orange for bravery and safety advice

Orange Colours in Culture

What about fun old orange? This warm colour is sacred in the Hindu religion and also represents fertility in Colombia. It is a particularly powerful tone in Eastern countries, where it is a symbol of love, health and happiness. In Ukraine it is a sign of bravery but in Egypt it brings to mind mourning.

This strong and vivid colour is used in a number of logos and the fact that it is so easily seen and recognised means that it is useful in safety settings and to warn of rising danger levels. Put some orange on screen, add a character voice with some vibrancy and people will pay attention.  Darker shades of the colour are said to bring to mind deceit and distrust, though.

Have you had any nasty experiences with colour confusion and foreign cultures that you would like to share?