Color and Culture Don't Always Mix

Indian Woman in Red DressBefore you select what you think is the perfect color off your Pantone color system, stop for a moment and consider your audience. This is especially important if you’re marketing or selling globally rather than locally. You see, different colors have different meanings to different people. If you’re unfamiliar with the cultural significance of a certain color the product, brand, or identity you’re promoting might end up failing before it has a chance to take off! Let’s take a closer look at the cultural significance of color in two of today’s emerging economies.


In China, the color red is perhaps the most significant. No where is this color more prominent than on the Chinese flag. Representing good fortune and joy, red is one of the most used colors during Chinese holidays and family gatherings. It is also the color the Chinese associate with fire, one of the five elements its people believe create everything that exists in nature.

Interestingly, while the color black in Western culture represents mourning, the symbolic color for mourning in China is white. Yellow is the color the Chinese associate with another of the five elements, the Earth, and as such, this color represents royalty.


In India, the color red represents something quite different: Purity. That’s contrary to Western cultures where the color white is used to symbolize purity. Indian brides traditionally wear red gowns and once married their foreheads are adorned with a red dot or tikka, the symbol of commitment. Because the wedding represents the beginning of a union of two individuals, the color red also symbolizes fertility and prosperity. The color green represents the harvest or a new beginning and, as in America, green is symbolic of nature. In India green is also the color used to honor Islam.

Other cultural color significances

As popular as green is, don’t use it if you plan on doing business with Indonesian people. That’s because in Indonesia, green is a forbidden color. In countries with dense jungles like those in South America, green represents death. But in the Middle East, green is the color of luck. In Iran, blue symbolizes immortality and in Saudi Arabia, yellow represents reliability and strength.

Color has tremendous cultural significance and choosing the wrong color can spell disaster. So don’t whip out your Pantone color system and randomly choose. Instead, know your audience and then make sure you do your homework!