colour branding – how choosing the wrong cultural colour can cost you sales

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

colour branding - the power of colour in culture.

Given the global village we are now living in and how easy it is to get your products and services in front of a global market, have you stopped to consider the message your choice of colour may be saying to those from different cultures?

The last thing you will want to do is inadvertently offend your target market because of something as simple as choice of colour.  Following are two case studies of how colour choice impacted sales.

case study – green doesn’t sell in china
An article in the Futurist (1997) describes just what can happen when a business is unaware of the connection between colour and their target market.  They describe how a US company launched their chewing gum into the Chinese market using a green wrapper. Noticing poor sales, they switched to a pink wrapper and sales increased.  According to the Futurist article this was because green is a sacred colour in China. They concluded “a product with the wrong color may not only fail in a particular country, it may even offend entire cultures.”

case study – black is stylish in Japan yet spells death in india
A Japanese scooter manufacturer successfully sold black scooters to their home market as consumers saw black as being stylish and sophisticated. However when they tried to sell them in India they received a negative reaction because in Indian culture black is associated with death.  Sales increased after other colours were introduced.

Even though the psychological affects of colour is universal, it is also important to be aware of the effects that *colour symbolism can have on your target market. You may, without realising it, be sending a completely different message. The last thing you want to do is alienate your target market and lose sales.

*each culture has its own unique conditioned conscious associations to colour.

Share the knowledge


  1. Tamsin Fox-Davies on September 2, 2011 at 10:09 am

    This is stuff that we take for granted in our own culture and have to learn if we go elsewhere.

    Also makes me think more about foreign businesses working in the UK and how they would also need to acclimatise.

    Really interesting – thanks for sharing this.

    • admin on September 2, 2011 at 11:21 am

      Hi Tamsin, you’re absolutely right about foreign businesses working in the UK. Colours that have a positive cultural association in their own country may find they mean something completely different in the UK.

      However if their target market in the UK is their own countrymen then the cultural colours are probably the same. It’s all a part of being culturally aware.

  2. Laura on September 7, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Karen – this is incredibly insightful.
    I suppose the same would go for packaging of products on the web and website pages?


    • admin on September 12, 2011 at 7:46 am

      Hi Laura,

      You’re absolutely right. The same principals apply regardless of the medium.

Leave a Comment