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Branding : The Significance of Colour in Culture

Using the wrong cultural colours can cost you sales. We live in a global village and it’s now easier than ever to get your products and services in front of a global market. Have you stopped to consider the message your branding colours may be saying to those from different cultures?

Every successful global business understands the importance of the meaning of colour in different cultures to:

  • avoid inadvertently offending their target market
  • create a positive impression
  • tap into a colour’s positive cultural association
  • increase sales

What exactly is Colour in Culture?

There is a lot of confusion around exactly what is colour in culture, sometimes also called colour symbolism.

“Giving meaning to a colour is our human way of seeking meaning…”

Colours are understood differently in different cultures because of the meaning those colours have within that culture. A colour will usually have gained symbolic significance over many generations, if not hundreds of years.

Often the original symbolic reason may no longer be known, slipping into folklore. Giving meaning to a colour is our human way of seeking meaning within our environment, usually formed out of religious beliefs or from nature.

Whilst colour association and colour symbolism are conditioned conscious associations to colour, the psychology of any particular colour is largely unconscious.  And whilst the psychological meaning of any given colour universally holds true, cultural associations may significantly influence colour choices.

An example of how a colour can play a significant role in culture, is China’s relationship to the colour red. In the Chinese culture red relates to fire and energy and has come to symbolise good luck, good fortune and prosperity. This is why Chinese restaurants have red table cloths. It is also why red envelopes containing money are given at Chinese New Year and other holidays and family gatherings.

3 things to consider when going global

1. Identify the countries you are looking to do business in

2. Research the meaning and the cultural significance of your brand colours, and the colours
you want to use for your products in the context of these societies

3. Work out the potential impact of your colours on your brand and therefore potential sales
in those markets

Don’t under estimate the importance we all put on the significance that colours have in our cultures. The colours you use can make or break a product or an entire brand.

Purple symbolised royalty in western cultures and has come to positively represent luxury and wealth, yet in Thailand it is the colour for widows in mourning. If you didn’t do your research carefully and chose purple for products aimed at Thai women, you may be left wondering why your products weren’t selling.

Another example, a Japanese scooter manufacturer successfully sold black scooters to their home market as consumers saw black as being stylish and sophisticated. However when they tried to sell them in India they received a negative reaction because in Indian culture black is associated with death. Sales increased after other colours were introduced.

Interestingly, living in a ‘global village’ with different ethnicities co-existing, with inter-racial marriages and the effect of modern technology, the internet in particular, the impact of cultural colours is significant. I know I’ll be watching with interest to see how colour preferences play out. There are already signs in China of cross-cultural colour choices being embraced, as brides now understanding the western symbolism attached to the wearing of white for weddings, are choosing to wear white wedding dresses. Traditionally this colour was only worn when in mourning. Quite a significant cultural shift don’t you think?

Communicating through colour

As a business owner how much thought have you put into the tone and combination of colours that represent your business brand? Do you know what they are actually saying?

Surprisingly, most business owners use colour as decoration or as an afterthought.

Instead, think of colour as a subliminal language, another way to communicate and to attract your ideal clients.

Used to its full effect, your branding colours will give you the competitive edge, elicit the right emotional response from your prospects, and significantly increase your sales.


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  1. Mac says

    If purple is considered a poor colour choice for brands wanting to do business in Thailand why does Thai Airways use it so prominently in their branding and even their flight crew uniforms?

    1. Mac says

      Very informative article by the way …

      1. Karen Haller says

        You’re welcome 🙂

    2. Karen Haller says

      Hi Mac,

      A very good question. Historically purple is the colour for widows in mourning in Thailand. So perhaps using purple on products aimed at a certain demographic or age group of Thai women may be detrimental to sales.

      An assumption, perhaps Thai airways is aimed more at the foreign market where this cultural significance doesn’t exist. Living in a more ‘global village’ it is not uncommon for traditions to not be followed so stringently. Having said that, it is still important to take cultural colour preferences into account.

      From my research dark purple was chosen as it symbolises the Thai orchid.

      Hope this is of help to you.