Color me global

Most marketers are aware that colors may have different meanings in different cultures; for example:

  • White means purity in the US, but mourning or death in Asia
  • Red is unlucky in Germany, but is the traditional color for a bride’s wedding dress in China
  • Yellow means warmth, i.e. the sun, in the US, while the French view it as the color of infidelity
  • Black means masculine and expensive in the US, while India considers it the color of dullness and stupidity

Aslam (2006) found that there are additional nuances to color meanings in relation to marketing:

Product relationships – different cultures consider certain colors to be appropriate for different types of products, such as the US preference for pink on women’s products such as cosmetics and hygiene items; conversely, in the UK, pink is used on low-cost, low-quality items for teens.  In addition, Aslam notes that color “signals a product’s attributes, influencing perceptions about price and quality.” For example, in the US dark colors often are used for expensive and sophisticated products, while other cultures consider dark colors, such as black, suitable for low-end “boring” products.

Product differentiation – some colors are considered ubiquitous for certain product categories, such as red for soft drinks; Pepsi used this association to its advantage by using blue packaging, making its beverages differentiated from other sodas.

Self image – consumers select colors based on how they wish to present themselves to the world. Therefore, in countries like the Netherlands that consider ice blue to be a feminine color, women would select ice blue clothing and accessories if they wish to perceived by their countrymen as feminine; conversely, the same color is considered masculine in Sweden, so men gravitate to ice blue clothing to display their masculinity.

Country-of-origin effects – different colors are more favored in each culture. The US predominately prefers blue, so many products and most corporations use blue as their main color. In contrast, France and Italy prefer green, so many products from those countries will feature green packaging – which identifies the country-of-origin fairly easily.

Cultural dimensions – using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, it appears that products feature “greater contrast and brighter colors” in feminine cultures and “soft harmonious color and low contrast” in masculine cultures.


Aslam, M. (2006). “Are you selling the right color? A cross-cultural review of color as a marketing cue.” Journal of Marketing Communications. 12 (1) pp. 15-30.


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