Colours in Culture

Colours are a large part of a business’ brand – they are often carefully chosen to represent the company, their values, and the message they try to portray. So imagine that your business is getting ready to go global and expand into new markets, you spend a lot of time, effort and money translating your website, product descriptions, marketing collateral, and then your potential customers are automatically put off because of the colours or design you use.

It might sound crazy, but many businesses often forget to take into account the meaning of colours in culture and don’t realise the impact or implications when marketing internationally.

It’s important that exporters and international brands are aware of different cultural attitudes and perceptions of colours in culture.

Holi, the Hindu spring festival of colour is just around the corner, and is now celebrated in many Western countries too. Participants wear white clothes and throw coloured dyes at each other to symbolise happiness and diversity. So what better time to take a deeper look at what certain colours mean in international markets and find out if you’re doing all you can to engage with your international buyers, whilst preserving your brand?


In Chinese culture, colours are extremely important and linked to various emotions as well as the five Chinese elements, so if you’re looking at exploring this market, it’s worth investing in professional consultants. Red symbolises luck and good fortune, and is often used during celebrations and national holidays such as New Year, as it portrays happiness.

Green is usually associated with harmony and prosperity in China, however, avoid green hats as this means infidelity to your loved one.

In Japan, there is a collection of colours with historical origins known as the “traditional colours” and these are frequently seen in literature, art and clothing. The red-violet series are reminiscent of Japanese cherry blossom pink and include shades such as Kōbai-iro (“red plum”) and Nakabeni (“medium crimson”).

In South Asia, blue is seen as a colour of divinity and joy, as it is associated with the Hindu deity, Krishna.

South America

Purple is often regarded as a colour of mourning and death in Brazil, so, depending on your business, it’s probably best to avoid this shade. Orange and green are linked to the earth, environment and nature.

In Mexico, yellow can be associated with death.

In some parts of South America, brown has been said to discourage sales and customer engagement.


It’s no coincidence that most Western based banks and finance companies have a blue logo, as this colour embodies trust and authority. In Eastern Europe, red is often linked to beauty, radicalism and passion.

Green is often used to represent the environment, nature, and luck, however it is also an emblematic colour of Ireland.

Orange can be used to represent happiness in the UK, and in the US it is used in tandem with Thanksgiving, but it is also seen as the national colour of the Netherlands and linked to their royal family.

It’s best to look at every market and your target demographic individually. The above examples are just a snapshot of how different countries interpret colours in culture. We recommend doing market-specific research in the countries appropriate for you when it comes to operating abroad. When it comes to translation and localisation, one size does not fit all, and if you want your international business to succeed, it’s worth investing in professional localisation.


As well as being a self-confessed language geek and baking fanatic, Fiona is the Digital Marketing Manager at Capita Translation and Interpreting. When she's not writing blogs, she often dreams of touring France one patisserie at a time.

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