Color is subjective. Although we may not all see the same color, within our own cultural group the emotional response is surprisingly common. Color is a powerful and important communication tool tied to religious, cultural, political, and social influences. The cultural bias for color symbolism can be very powerful. In China they use white during funerals as they associate white with winter time in which nature is dead; where-as in Western cultures black is used.
A brand’s color communicates a variety of messages that directly impact the consumer by connecting associated meanings (often subconsciously) to the brand. As well as simply capturing an audience’s attention, color can stimulate emotional responses, affect an individual’s perception, form attitudes and improve learning and persuasiveness. As more and more brands expand globally the use of color in branding has taken on new importance. When moving a brand into any new market, it’s important to consider the cultural ramification of your brand’s color palette and make informed brand decisions to ensure that you’re sending relevant brand messages to your new customers.
Brands that fail to take cultural values into consideration before entering the global market can invite disaster. When a Japanese brand unsuccessful tried to sell black scooters in India they discovered the color black is considered inauspicious, not a positive virtue for their product. Mothers across India were telling their sons they couldn’t buy a scooter because they associated black with death. Similarly an US chewing gum brand found their product wasn’t selling very well in China but after changing their packaging from green to pink, symbolizing good luck in China, sales rose. The same thing happened in Thailand where purple is the colour of mourning, yet the Thai Airways chosen it as their primary brand colour. At first glance this seems like a mistake for the domestic market, but as the Thai Airways business is heavily weighted to the international market, their brand will take on the western meaning of purple and their brand will be associated with royalty, luxury, wealth and comfort.
Today many people around the world have access to information they never had before. This globalization means that customs, traditions and ideas are becoming increasingly universal. Colors and symbols are more widely accepted cross-culturally, especially by younger consumers. For instance, in China, where wedding dresses were traditionally red rather than white as they are in western cultures, today, Chinese brides predominantly wear traditional white western style wedding dresses with red jackets. From a brand perspective, we are watching the world of colour evolve and revolutionize.
Brands currently find themselves in ‘colour no-mans land’. No-longer do the traditional meanings of culture strictly and broadly apply to colors in different markets, and we have-not, and probably will never reach the point where we see a globally standardized set of colour associations. In-lieu of a clear set of guiding principles, brands must carefully consider the way they leverage their visual language iconography especially their use of colour to ensure they are communicating the right messages