Being an American-based business ourselves, we tend to work with other American-based companies. By and large, most of our customers are local in scope and aren’t interested in branding for anything other than the local market. But sometimes a company will come to us with international plans in mind, and we have to tell them that their cherished corporate colors may not be appropriate for the audience they’re targeting.
What many people don’t realize is that colors don’t have universal meaning worldwide. Different cultures assign different meanings to the same hue. The color red, for instance, is generally considered bold and aggressive in the United States. But did you know that red signifies “sacrifice” in Hebrew cultures? “Purity” in India? “Communism” in Russia? Okay, most people know that one, but still. It can be a bit of culture shock to discover than your bright red logo in North America is predominantly the color of mourning in South Africa. An excellent resource for what colors mean in different cultures is the article “World Cultures Color Symbolism Charts” on webdesign.about.com.
As a marketing company, we find it is more effective to market to our customers’ audience than to our customers themselves. (It seems obvious in retrospect, but a lot of marketing companies don’t see it that way.) That means we try to keep our eye on cultural quirks or trends of which our clients may not be aware, and take those into account when designing a company’s identity.
Generally speaking, a logo which is black on white is safe anywhere. When designing a corporate logo, we try to choose a design which reproduces well in black and white anyway, so as long as the company sticks to that they should be good to go in nearly any country.
A single accent color is fine, too, as long as the client is fully aware of the message that color brings to their target audiences. In some cases, we will encourage a client to pick a different accent color for some of their overseas operations while otherwise keeping their logo the same. For example, a US bank with a green corporate color, denoting wealth, might consider changing their accent color to purple if they choose to market in Eastern cultures.
Usually we don’t recommend that companies with international aspirations have large, complex, colorful logos, since adding colors just adds to the difficulty of finding good matches for all cultures.
This color identity extends to other forms of advertising. Photo assets for print advertising, for instance, may take cultural colors into account when choosing the backdrop or even the clothes worn by the models. Typography and layout must also follow cultural conventions.
Note that color theory at this level is more of an art than a science. If a color isn’t embarrassing, there’s no reason to worry too much about it; a red logo in India may have slightly different implications than is intended, but it’s by no means “bad.” But part of effective marketing is leveraging every possible asset toward a single goal, so choosing the proper color for a culture is definitely a worthwhile consideration. As a multicultural company with international customers, we have unique knowledge and experience in this area. Contact us today and we will be happy to discuss this and other possible pitfalls of international advertising with you.