A White Flower Was Crossed With A Red Flower It’s a Colorful World: The Meaning of Color Across Borders

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It’s a Colorful World: The Meaning of Color Across Borders

As children, we are often asked “What is your favorite color?” We believed that our color choice said a lot about who we were and the questioner would immediately understand its meaning.

But colors, like words, do not have universal meaning. We all have different reactions to different tones and shades depending on how and where we grew up, our past experiences and our set of preferences – which can change as creatively as children.

The fact is that colors have many meanings – but that meaning varies drastically across languages, cultures and national boundaries. If you’re aware of some of these differences, you’ll be able to avoid embarrassing cultural mistakes when referring to and using colors among colleagues, friends, and clients—and it’ll help you market your product effectively in global markets.

Below, a simple guide to five colors from around the world.

Black and white

In Western cultures, black is associated with death, evil, and eternity. In some Eastern cultures, however, it often has the opposite meaning; In China, black is the signature color for young boys and is used in celebrations and joyous events.

White, on the other hand, symbolizes age, death and bad luck in China and many Hindu cultures. However, in both East and West, white generally represents purity, purity and peace.

Red

Red is one of the most powerful colors and has deep meaning in most cultures:

  • china – Celebration, courage, loyalty, success and luck, among others. Often used in ceremonies and when combined with the color white, it represents happiness.
  • Japan – Traditional colors for heroic figures.
  • Russia – Representative of the communist era. For this reason, extreme caution is recommended when using it in Eastern European countries.
  • India – Purity, so wedding dresses are often red. Also color for married women.
  • United Nations – Used in combination with other colors for danger (“think red light!”) and holidays such as Christmas (green) and Valentine’s Day (pink).
  • Central Africa – Red is the color of life and health. But in other parts of Africa red is the color of mourning and death. To honor this, the Red Cross replaced green and white in South Africa and other regions of the continent.

blue

Blue is often considered the “safest” world color, as it can represent anything from immortality and freedom (the sky) to cleanliness (in Colombia, blue is considered soap). In Western countries, blue is often seen as a conservative, “corporate” color.

However, be careful when using blue to address a highly religious audience: the color has significance in almost every major world religion. For Hindus, it is the color of Krishna, and many gods are depicted with blue skin. For Christians, blue invokes images of Catholicism, particularly the Virgin Mary. Jewish religious texts and rabbinical sages mention blue as a sacred color, while the Islamic Qur’an refers to evildoers whose eyes are زرÙ,Zurkwhich is plural Azrakor blue.

green

Until natural food companies started marketing green drinks as healthy and good tasting, many Westerners thought green foods were poisonous. Today, green is considered a more positive color. American retailers are taking advantage of the environmental movement to sell eco-friendly goods, often using green-themed packaging or advertising campaigns touting the product’s adherence to “green” standards. Not so in China and France, where studies indicate that green is not a good choice for packaging.

Orange

If the Dutch have anything to say about it, the World Cup will be filled with plenty of oranges this summer. (Orange is the national color of the Netherlands and the uniform of the country’s famous football team.)

On the other side of the world, however, orange has a slightly more sober meaning: in Hinduism, orange has religious significance as the color for Hindu lords. Throughout Southeast Asia, Theravada Buddhist monks also wear orange robes.

So before your inner child excitedly talks to foreign friends or colleagues about your color preference, you may want to learn more about that color and its cultural significance. Also, be aware of color choices as they relate to your company’s campaign copy and graphics—whether it’s printed collateral, a website, or an ad campaign. Know your target market and their associated color conventions so you don’t inadvertently send the wrong message.

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