Insights June 9, 2021

The use of colours in transcreation

Living Word
By Living Word

Copy can make or break an advertising campaign, but the choice of colours is an equally important element – even more so when the marketing effort relates to different cultures.

A colour palette that has positive connotations in one culture can be a big faux pas in others, so what should you look out for?

How colours affect advertising campaigns

Colours are essential in any advertising campaign or marketing activity. They are used to evoke feelings in and trigger responses from your target audience, and when done right, they can be quite effective in doing so.

While there are many nuances to consider, such as differences in how men and women see colours, a lot of insights have been gained over time. In 2014, the University of Missouri-Columbia conducted a study to better understand how the use of specific colours in a company’s logo impacted how that logo and the brand as a whole were perceived by consumers.

Examples of what the study revealed include:

  1. Blue was associated with confidence, success and reliability
  2. Yellow connoted fun and modernity
  3. Pink connoted youth, imagination and fashionableness

One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that certain countries attribute different values and meanings to different colours. And this is where it gets a bit more complicated.

Colour perceptions across cultures

Colours can have very different meanings in different countries. As illustrated in this colour symbolism chart, the Western world often uses red as a sign of danger or as a warning – think ‘Stop’ signs and traffic lights – but also as the colour of love. In Russia, however, it is associated with Communism, while it is the colour of violence, sacrifice and mourning in South Africa.

In Thailand, purple is the colour worn when mourning, whereas Western countries associate purple with wealth and royalty.

Green, on the other hand, is associated with environmental awareness in the Western world, but be careful in other countries: in China, for instance, green is associated with exorcism and infidelity.

Transcreation gone wrong

Paying attention to these differences in how colours are perceived across cultures is well worth some time and investment. Just take the example of how Pepsi-Cola changed the colour of its vending machines in Southeast Asia in the 1950s. Little did the company know that going from a darker royal blue to a lighter blue would result in sales plummeting as light blue is associated with death and mourning in the region.

How to tackle colours in transcreation

There are many things to consider when tackling the choice and appropriateness of colours in transcreation campaigns, and a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work.

The solution? Team up with expert linguists who know the culture of your target locales inside-out, so that you can be sure to steer clear of colours that represent unintended and unfortunate behaviours, feelings, and characteristics in the respective markets.

If the existing colour palette of a brand, product or campaign won’t work, it may be beneficial to replace it with new colour combinations for each respective market. In some cases, smaller tweaks – such as replacing a bright red with a more subtle red – can be enough. Either way, local knowledge is key.