3 Things International Marketers Should Know About Color

Hal Conick
Current average rating    
Key Takeaways
​What? Color is unique in each culture. As international marketers, which colors demand to be used? Which must be avoided? 

So W​hat? The wrong color could send the wrong message. For example, yellow is seen as "pleasant" in China, but Russia and Germany see it as a color of envy. 

Now What? “Color is personal,” says Judith van Vliet, vice president of communications and PR at Color Marketing Group. “It evokes different emotions in different people. ... You need to know who your main target group is.”

​M​ay 9, 2016​​

What are your campaign’s colors conveying to consumers? A singular color could represent love in one country and misfortune in another. International marketers must be sure they are selecting the right color scheme for each aspect of the brand. 


Creative marketing sometimes means coloring outside of the lines, but international marketers must be sure they stay within certain boundaries when taking a campaign into a new region of the world.  

“There are some colors in some areas you should be careful about,” says Judith van Vliet, vice president of communications and PR at Color Marketing Group and a designer at ColorWorks Europe. “Not a lot of people are aware of what certain colors mean. That’s one of the most important things there is: the standards people have with certain colors.”

Studies have proven van Vliet correct: a 2007 study called “The Importance of Color in Global Marketing,” named color “one of the most significant factors in global marketing that has the power to affect the success of a particular product and/or business.”

A report from Kissmetrics found that 92.6% of people say the “visual dimension” is the No. 1 factor that affects their purchasing decision. To further show just how important color is, the company found that there’s a 90-second product assessment window, 90% of which is based solely on color.  

Here are three things international marketers should know before selecting color schemes for a regional or worldwide campaign.

Recognize Modern Trends

Van Vliet’s Color Marketing Group recently released its “Key Colors” for 2017 in each region. These include:

North America: “Thrive” green, which the group says “will establish itself as a colorful symbol for growth, strength and endurance. Moving forward is about energy, but power and longevity demand balance, and the hue is purposely balanced between light and dark, pale and strong.”

Asia-Pacific: “Edo Eau” blue, a color the group says “represents cross-cultural inspirations, as Asia-Pacific looks inward to its region, and to Europe, for important influences. It will remain key to treasure what is REAL, not faux, and if something is faux, then the color and texture must resonate with authenticity.”

Europe: “Life Spurt” green, a hue that “visually combines the digital and real world around us, it is linked to nature with its freshness, as well as technology with its edgy, yellow undertones.”

Latin America: “Brilho Interior” metal. The group says, “Metallic finishes are important elements to the coming markets and the pink cast of this copper adds a gentle warmth that suggests community, caring and bringing people together.” 

“A lot of people want to use trendy colors,” she says. “I think that’s where there’s a lot more help needed.”

Know What Each Color Represents to a Culture

John Giordano, president of GNP Branded Gear, and his team put together a chart showing which colors each country enjoys and dislikes. He says:

Black: Many countries—including India, Japan, Germany and Thailand—stay away from use of this color due to its association with death, fear and unhappiness. However, black can be seen as “powerful and expensive” in China. 

Blue: This is a color that represents high-quality, purity and trust nearly across the board. Van Vliet said “social media” blues are now everywhere, as it stands for “sharing,” a lynchpin of the modern era of marketing.

Red: Giordano says there’s an association with love in China and Japan, ambition and desire in India, and misfortune in Nigeria. 

Yellow: While yellow is thought of as a pleasant color in China, Russia and Germany see it as a color that inspires envy and jealousy. 

Purple: Love is what purple represents in China, but it means quite the opposite in Japan (sin and fear) and Thailand (a color of widows and mourning).

Green: This is a seemingly-positive color in most regions of the world: China sees green as a color representing sincerity and trustworthiness, and Japan sees green as a color of good tastes, love and adventure. 

Regional campaigns must use market research to understand which colors will work culturally and with the desired target group, experts say. 

For worldwide brands, such as Nike or Google, van Vliet says using colors that may offend regionally isn’t as big of a deal as it may be for brands with more to lose.

“Even if you’re offended by a certain color, you know the brand is international,” she says. “What’s very important when people look for new colors is whether they fit their brands and whether they fit the product in an actual market.”

Colors Must Be Used in a Proper Context

Using bright colors inside of an airplane is a poor idea, as this needs to be an environment where calmness and trust are emphasized, van Vliet says. When choosing colors, make sure context is considered first. 

“If you have a certain shape of a product—let’s say you’re doing color for a chair—that’s very different than doing color for a shampoo bottle,” she says. “Although there might be colors you personally love or are part of your branding strategy, they will not always fit certain shapes. They won’t always fit materials and finishing.”

Many brands misuse color online. Beyond using color in improper context, colors will be misused according to brand standards. Oftentimes, the schemes go un-updated. It’s an issue across multiple industries, she says. 

There’s no singular color every brand should be using or avoiding, van Vliet says. However, doing the proper research and finding which color fits best with each campaign, logo, and concept will go a long way toward giving brands a unified look and conveying the message they intended to.

“Color is personal,” she says. “It evokes different emotions in different people. ... You need to know who your main target group is.” 

Author Bio:

Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
Add A Comment :

Become a Member
Access our innovative members-only resources and tools to further your marketing practice.