50 Shades of ________; Color Perception in the Global Market

We all know that to successfully establish your company’s global footprint, you need to localize your web presence. However, what many fail to realize is that doing it right goes beyond simply translating your site into a few different languages and slapping the proper country code on the end of your URL. High quality web localization caters individually to specific markets and is much deeper than having a good global gateway and quality translation.

To have a chance at success, you must be acutely aware of cultural factors such as which web format your market best responds to and what color connotations are in different markets. You must also know who makes up your market and their general user behavior including how they browse, the local search engines, date formatting and local currency.

Not knowing about cultural color connotations is one of the quickest ways for your company to easily screw up an otherwise strong global website. One of the challenges facing a global marketer is that the meaning of colors can dramatically change from one market to another.

For instance, in most cultures the color blue triggers positive feelings and conveys a sense of calm. Because blue is so readily found in nature, it is generally considered to be a universally acceptable color for any campaign. Simple enough, right? Not so fast.

Let’s take a look at Pepsi Co. for a minute. A few years ago, Pepsi was the dominant market share for Cola in South East Asia. However, when they changed the color of their vending machines from “regal blue” to “ice blue,” they lost their market share to Coke. Why? Well, unfortunately for Pepsi, while nothing negative is associated with darker shades of blue in South East Asia, lighter shades of blue like those found on Pepsi’s new vending machines are linked with death and mourning.

Another example comes from Ireland. During its 1994 campaign launch, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright…the future’s Orange.” Problem is, in the North, the term Orange suggests the Orange Order, implying that the future is bright, Protestant and loyalist; a message that didn’t sit well with the Irish Catholic population.

The point of this post isn’t to cause you to second guess every design choice you’ve ever made in a foreign market, but to highlight the importance of acknowledging cultural attitudes and thinking locally.  Unfortunately, it’s too late for Orange and Pepsi, but you can thank me later for reminding you that mistakes like theirs are easily avoided when you choose to work with a partner that possesses a culturally savvy network.

In the future, maybe web globalization will eventually break down these barriers for us. Color is one of the oldest cultural identifiers seen in humanity and for the time being, evidence suggests that color connotation will continue to play a role in the global consumer experience. Where do you think the importance of color in web localization will be five years from now? In the meantime, where do cultural connotations like color lie on your list of priorities for web localization?


For additional information we recommend looking at:

Colours in Culture

The Global Marketers Guide to Color Selection

The Psychology of Color

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