HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life: Localization of Colors Around the World – A Business Perspective

Segment 9 - Localization of Colors Around the World – A Business Perspective

In the last article, I discussed the cultural influence of colors and why localization of colors should first be understood from a cultural perspective.  In this segment, I will elaborate on colors and share how the cultural factors have impacted business decisions. 

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But before I begin, I want to answer a burning question from the last article: “Can we wear black to the wedding?”  

As some of you may know from my earlier article, Translations in a Big Fat International Wedding, I had a relatively large international wedding in Bangkok with guests from virtually every continent represented. In the last article, Localization of Colors Around the World, I discussed the many cultural meanings of the color black.  While I personally, find the color to represent elegance, it is not considered the most appropriate color to wear to a Thai wedding - if you want to show respect and wish the bride and groom marital bliss and happiness.  Although I probably wouldn’t have been personally offended, it was too difficult to ignore my cultural influences; hence, my response to my wondering guests was to wear extremely bright, brilliant and flashy colors:  fuchsia, gold, silver, electric blues, yellows in Thai silk.  I love the bright colors and the mood of the reception was energizing!

Now back to localization of colors with a business perspective… Many global companies looking to expand often explore popular “business” colors:

Blue, Green, Orange

When asked why Facebook chose blue, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook responded..."I'm color blind; it's the only color I can see." Blue is a color often associated with peace, tranquility, trust, loyalty, inspiration, confidence, comfort, conservatism , stability, sadness, depression and mourning.  The pharaohs of ancient Egypt wore blue for protection against evil, and in Europe it is associated with royal lineage (blue blood).  In Western societies, the color blue is used to invoke trust.  Police officers and the Air Forces in some Western countries wear blue to give an aura of trust and protection.  The Blue Cross & Blue Shield brand represents trust, protection and stability in its image, which is paramount for a health insurance brand.  Many banks and business consulting firms like to use the color blue to represent their brand’s stability, trust and fidelity (ie. Citibank Blue, Chase Manhattan blue, France’ s Carte bleue).  However, blue, like black is also associated with death, sadness and mourning in many cultures.  In Asian countries, even the specific shade of blue can be critical, as it can imply death or immortality.

For example, in the 1950’s, the soft drink Pepsi took a critical hit to its market share against Coca-Cola, after changing its vending machine colors from a deep blue to light ice blue.  Experts have attributed the lost in market share to the region’s association of light blue to death.  Nobody wants to drink a beverage that implies death!  Localization of colors has not been Pepsi’s only challenge in Asia (ie. Come Alive with Pepsi campaign in China, implied bringing ancestors back from the dead – immortality is also risky business).

Nonetheless, blue remains a popular business color, and is considered one of the safest color choices for brands.  Some companies heavily using blue in their marketing images include IBM (big blue), Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Green is another interesting color with respect to culture and localization for business.  While green may represents all things natural, environmental, healthy, masculine, soothing, lucky, prosperous, vitality, youth, generosity, fertility, money, food, hope, growth, freshness, youth, sharing and responsiveness, its negative connotations are also very strong: jealousy, inexperience, envy, misfortune, greed, constriction, guilt.  

In the U.S. green is associated with money and prosperity, while in some parts of North Africa, it is associated with corruption.  For Koreans, the color green represents wealth and fortune; hence many Korean storefronts are green to draw prosperity and success to the business.

It is not very clear as to why green has a negative connotation for packaging in some countries, but studies have found that green is not a good color choice for packaging in China and France, which implies that it is also not a good choice for online marketing in these countries.  Perhaps it has to do to the connotation of green for sickness or nausea in the Far East.  As for France, the color normally symbolizes hope but it is also heavily associated to bad luck because in the past, cyanide was used in the chemical process to produce this color for dyes, which resulted in many deaths (ie. the French playwright Moliere was said to have been wearing a green costume when he died on stage).

However, one international brand that has attributed its success to the color green is Garnier Fructis.  This brand has not only managed to embrace the color green, but has successfully capitalized on its eco-friendly theme in virtually every country represented, its bright green shampoo bottles can be found proudly displayed in super market aisles across the globe.  They have smartly localized their packaging in France and China using white packaging accented with green images of nature.  Moreover, they are reinforcing the positive green connotations relating to organics, nature and Feng Shui in their product packaging (The Chinese Feng Shui meaning of green includes: Yin, Wood, growing energy, refreshing, nurturing, balancing, harmony normalizing, healing, health, peaceful, calming).

Orange elicits feelings of warmth, balance, encouragement, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant, confidence, friendliness, cheerfulness, excitement, energy fun times, adaptability, happy energetic days and ambition.  It can represent fruitfulness and prosperity. 

It is a sacred color in India and the color worn by Buddhist monks in several southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and it invokes thoughts relating to spirituality or religion in some cultures.  The color has a strong association with Northern Ireland’s Orange Order, a Protestant Loyalist group.  The France Telecom mobile company, Orange recognized this critical point when in the 1990’s, as the company was preparing for its launch in Ireland, their successful ad campaign “The Future is Bright – the Future is Orange” was changed to avoid political/religious connotations by the Irish Catholic population.

ING Direct attributes its global branding success to its fresh new way of banking, as symbolized by their bright orange ball.  In fact, they position themselves as having an Orange culture.  As described on their company website: ING DIRECT has established an Orange culture that is fuelled by innovation, growth, and collaboration. These are values that drive positive change, making a difference for individuals, communities, and the world.  ING Direct has not only revolutionized banking, but has been able to succeed in global markets by reclaiming the inspiring attribute of the color orange.  In the U.S., the color orange’s connotation formerly implied cheap; ING Direct has taken that and reinvented the connotation to imply refreshing, invigorating, cost-effective and smart.  

In the food industry, orange is an appetite stimulant, and using orange decor can help encourage restaurant sales.  Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain and stimulates mental activity. It is a youthful color popular amongst a younger generation.  Who knows this more than anyone?  

Check out McDonald’s international websites and color schemes.  While the Golden Arches remain the key symbol of American fast food, each international website presents a slightly different color scheme for each country.  McDonald’s Golden Arches appear against a red background in its Chinese website, making it appear orange, rather than yellow.  In India, the background ranges from shades of red to orange.  Walk into a modern international McDonald’s restaurant and one will see that the once popular neon yellows and bright reds are becoming a thing of the past, and are more often replaced with subtle hues of oranges, reds, yellows and even greens.

So when it comes to understanding global marketing success, one must take a deep look at the local culture and color preferences.  Color localization is part of successful business expansion and can often make or break a successful brand image.  Companies such as Pepsi have experienced a few bumps along the path to globalization, but have successfully learned and regained its leadership position in the beverage industry.  Citibank and ING Direct have successfully inspired trust amongst its banking constituents, leveraging colors to deliver completely different messages: confidence in blue and dynamic in orange.  Other companies like Garnier Fructis, have managed to take its local understanding of color and have discovered how to minimize the negative responses by attaching positive color associations to invoke more desirable responses from its local consumers.  

As I purported in my last segment, the key to successful color understanding and localization boils down to a cultural understanding first.  Color is not only a marketing analysis effort, but also a cultural one.  Color must first be understood as a human factor, and like words in a language, colors have a distinct meaning to different people.  Many successful global businesses understand that, however many others still continue to learn the hard way.

… Stay tuned for the next Segment of HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life Series, where we’ll explore … Localization of Popular World Legends - The Tooth Fairy, El Ratón Pérez or La Petite Souris

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This article was written by Rachanee Thevenet, Co-Founder of HT Localization.  Rachanee is an Asian-American expat living in Spain with her family.  She loves all things international including food, art, literature, culture, languages and people.  She has years of product marketing expertise and global expansion experience.

HT Localization, LLC. is a worldwide translation & localization agency providing a full range of professional language translation services, including social media localization, marketing translations, website translations, software localization, eLearning materials, documentation translations, etc.  With locations in the US, Spain, Zambia & Thailand, and coverage across all languages and most industries, HT Localization is well positioned to provide around the globe services for all translation needs.  

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