Color symbolism in the localization industry

color symbolism in localization

Color symbolism is the layer of meaning we attach to colors. It’s how colors trigger certain emotions or ideas in us, and this can vary dramatically across cultures. What might be seen as a positive and auspicious color in one place could hold negative connotations in another. This is why it’s so important to discuss color symbolism the in context of localization.

The importance of choosing the right colors

Whether you’re localizing software, marketing materials, video games, or any other form of content, it’s important to choose the right color in order to avoid confusing your audience and to ensure your message resonates effectively.

In short, here are some advantages:

  • Cultural relevance
  • Emotional impact
  • Brand identity
  • Consumer behavior
  • Competitive advantage
  • Effective communication

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Colors are a form of communication, and just like words, they can be misinterpreted if used incorrectly across cultures. Imagine a warning label that uses green (often seen as safe in the West) but signifies danger in another culture. Confusing, right?

Let’s look at another example. Using red for a sale promotion might be a bullseye in a culture where red signifies good luck and bargains, but fall flat in a place where red has negative connotations. You need to consider cultural resonance. Using colors that resonate positively with your target audience can make your message more impactful.

If your color choices seem out of place or clash with cultural norms, it wouldn’t be a good look for your brand. Your target audience might question your understanding of their culture and hesitate to trust your brand or message. Plus, by choosing colors that resonate with your audience, you can create a more appealing and memorable brand experience.

The meaning of colors varies across cultures

Here’s a look at some of the most common colors used in various types of localization and the different meanings associated with them. You’ll find that colors we typically perceive as positive can hold negative connotations in other cultures.


In many Western cultures, red is associated with love, passion, excitement, and good luck. After all, it’s the color of Valentine’s Day. In China, red is a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and happiness, which is why it’s prominently featured during Chinese New Year. In Central Africa, it is rather seen as an ambivalent color, better than black but worse than white. In other parts of Africa, however, red is a color of mourning and death.


Yellow is most commonly linked to happiness, optimism, and cheerfulness. This association likely stems from its connection to the sun and summertime, and many cultures use yellow in celebrations and decorations to evoke these positive feelings. Yellow can also represent mental stimulation and creativity. And in China, the color is associated with wisdom and imperial power.

This color, however, is also associated with deceit and cowardice. In medieval religious paintings, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was sometimes depicted wearing yellow clothing or with a yellow halo. The association of yellow with deceit and cowardice likely contributed to the origin of the American phrase “yellow belly,” a term that refers to someone who is cowardly or lacking courage.


Across many cultures, blue is associated with trust, peace, tranquility, and reliability. This is likely due to its connection to the calming color of the sky and water. Historically, it has been tied to royalty or high social status. In China, for instance, a specific shade of blue was reserved for the emperor’s clothing. Interestingly, while blue is a cool color, in countries such as the Netherlands, it symbolizes warmth. On the other hand, in Sweden, it can lean more towards coldness.


When we think of green, we often think of nature, freshness, growth and renewal. This connection stems from its presence in grass, trees, and the natural world. Consequently, in many cultures, this color symbolizes wealth, abundance, and good luck.

However, as much as green is associated with positive feelings, it can also have negative connotations. Does the expression “green with envy” come in mind? Different shade of green also mean different things, so understanding all these variations is crucial for effective localization.


Black is a versatile and complex color that can create a sense of mystery and exclusivity. It is often associated with power, authority, and elegance. Think of formal attire, luxury cars, or prestigious credit cards. Many high-end fashion brands and luxury goods use black in their logos to convey prestige and sophistication. Examples include Chanel, Prada, and Rolls-Royce.

Despite this, black is universally used in many cultures to symbolize death, mourning, and grief. This association likely stems from its connection to darkness and the unknown. It can also represent evil, negativity, or misfortune. Have you noticed how the villains in movies often dress in black or dark omens associated with the color?


White is most commonly linked to purity, innocence, and cleanliness. The calming effect of white can also evoke feelings of peace, tranquility, and simplicity. It’s used in minimalist design and meditation spaces for this reason.

While white is associated with weddings in many Western cultures, it’s the color of mourning in some Asian countries. Consequently, white might be a great choice for a minimalist design globally, but a website targeting a specific culture that associates white with mourning might want to consider a different color scheme.

Big brands and color localization

McDonald’s, one of the globe’s largest fast-food chains, consistently adjusts its branding tactics to match changing consumer preferences and societal trends. Across numerous European nations such as Germany, you’ll notice a departure from their iconic vibrant red and yellow exterior, replaced instead with a subtler green and yellow palette. This alteration serves a dual purpose: firstly, it acknowledges the differing aesthetic preferences in Europe compared to the United States. Secondly, it shows McDonald’s commitment to environmental consciousness, a big concern for many Europeans.

Coca-Cola has a long history of adapting its branding to suit different markets around the world. While the iconic red and white color scheme remains consistent across countries, the company has occasionally introduced variations to accommodate cultural sensitivities or preferences. For example, in predominantly Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Coca-Cola has released special packaging during Ramadan that features gold accents, which are associated with Islam and the holiday.

When telecommunications company Orange entered the Northern Irish market, its use of the color orange in branding inevitably stirred tensions and raised concerns. The color orange coincidentally shares a strong association with the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization. While the company’s branding choice may have been unintentional or unrelated to local symbolism, its reception emphasized the need for cultural sensitivity during the localization process.

In 2011, Starbucks unveiled a significant redesign of its iconic logo, marking a notable departure from its previous iterations. The updated logo features a vibrant green (ditching any trace of the previous brown color), while the company name and the surrounding text have been removed, leaving only the iconic Siren at the center. This streamlined design was intended to resonate more effectively with audiences worldwide and reflect the company’s evolving identity as a global brand.

Final thoughts

Color has the power to speak volumes about culture, emotion, and identity. When it comes to localization, it’s important to understand the intricacies of color symbolism. Each hue carries its own cultural significance, shaping perceptions about your brand and influencing behavior in diverse communities worldwide.

As we’ve explored throughout this article, the ability to navigate the nuances of color symbolism is essential for successful localization efforts. By carefully choosing colors that align with local preferences and cultural values, you can enhance the relevance of your brand, build trust, and forge lasting connections with consumers around the globe.

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