Viewing colours through a cultural lens

Colour is a powerful and instantaneous way to convey meaning. When children are born we put blue hats on the boys and pink hats on the girls, which helps immediately identify the baby’s gender. But how should this simple fact impact the design of your next email marketing campaign?

When looking at marketing material, the colours are the first things people tend to remember, followed by its graphics, numbers and eventually words. Colours are memorable and the way we understand the meaning of colours depends on a range of variables, one of the most influential of which is cultural norms. The connotations we have with certain colours are for the most part a cultural construct, with colours eliciting certain reactions from us depending on the cultural context in which we were raised.

Every business needs to develop a thorough understanding of its target audience (see our recent post on personas). When it comes to choosing the colours for an email marketing campaign or a social media ad, you will want to make sure the colours you use accurately convey the message you wish to promote to your audience of current or prospective clients.

As evidence of the different connotations associated with colours in different cultures, we have taken a closer look below at red, orange and yellow. A review of these colours helps to explain why coming from a Western perspective you may think you know how the colours you choose will be perceived, but if your audience is made up of people that were raised or are now living someplace else, you may be surprised by how the colours you use alters your intended message.


In Western Europe, North America and Japan red conveys excitement, action, danger and anger – exemplified most clearly in a red traffic sign. In contrast, red is not a sign of danger in China but rather a colour of luck, happiness and a long life.  In India too, red is a colour of purity, wealth, opulence and beauty.


Orange is often used by Western businesses to communicate with customers that the product they are offering is inexpensive. It is certainly a colour a luxury brand selling to a western audience would want to avoid. However, this is not the case for a high-end brand targeting a Hindu Indian audience, for which the colour orange is considered an auspicious and sacred colour.


For a western audience, the colour yellow evokes ideas of sunshine, happiness, joy and hope. It is used in marketing materials to ensure a cheerfulness and youthful feel.  The use of yellow would not though have this impact on an Egyptian audience where the colour has the exact opposite meaning. In Egypt, the colour is used when in mourning and in funeral ceremonies. The same goes for Greece where yellow is a colour of sadness.

It is important in B2B marketing to thoroughly understand the cultural composition of your audience so you can make sure your marketing material produces the desired reactions among your target audience. The meaning associated with colours and how they differ amongst cultures is just one of the things you will need to study to ensure that you have a good understanding of your current and potential clients and how best to reach them.

If you work in a marketing department and are interested in learning more, why not register here for one of our free seminars on the science of digital marketing?