The importance of being careful (when choosing colors for communication)
by Federica Fugazzotto
When it comes to marketing translation, one of the most common mistakes people make is thinking that words are the only thing that matters.
Once you find the right slogan the problem is solved, isn’t it? No, it’s not! Think about the importance of the visual impact: colors and images play a leading role in determining the success or insuccess of a marketing strategy, but the way they’re perceived is not the same everywhere in the world.
This is of course a huge issue that we don’t expect to solve in a few lines: there’s no universal truth, the meaning of colors is not an exact science and there are many possible variations that need to be taken into account, even within the same culture. What we can do here is try to spot some of the main differences that we should not forget about when transferring a message from a culture into another.
WHITE: it is usually the first example that comes into mind when we think about colors meaning different things to different cultures. In most western cultures, white relates to purity and to happy events like wedding ceremonies, whereas for some asian populations – like Cambodians and Indians – white is associated to death and grief, and it is usually worn at funerals.
RED: although with different connotations all over the world, red is always associated to strong feelings and meaningful events. In the Chinese culture it is considered of good omen and is traditionally used for great celebrations, from weddings to the Chinese New Year. Indians as well are persuaded that red brings luck, and brides often choose this color for their wedding dress. Both in the USA and in Europe red is the color of passion and love, but it is also related to danger. In Ghana, on the contrary, it symbolizes sorrow and is usually worn at funerals, as well as black.
BLUE: in Western cultures, blue has an ambivalent meaning: from one hand it is considered the color of steadiness and reliability, and that’s why it is often used in marketing. On the other hand, though, it may be associated to feelings of sadness: idioms like “having the blues” or “feeling blue” express exactly this kind of mood. In some Asian cultures blue is strongly related to spirituality, and for Hinduists is the color of Krishna.
YELLOW: yellow is an ambiguous color, and it may even take on different meanings within the same culture. In Europe and in the USA it is often associated to positive feelings like joy and energy, but in some countries it may have two different meanings: in Germany, for example, people may turn “yellow from envy”. In Italy it is often the color of jealousy, whereas in China “yellow” is used to identify videos or other materials having pornographic contents.
The above are just few examples and such an issue may deserve a well more detailed analysis, so here’s our advice: if you’re thinking of going abroad with your brand and ads, make sure you can rely on communication professionals that will help you out on this rough journey!
Federica Fugazzotto - Editorial translator from English into Italian and full-time nerd. She loves stories more than anything else on Earth but does not mind a glass of good red wine.
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." Nelson Mandela