Public Relations Tactics

Colors and Culture: Points to Consider

October 1, 2013

Fall is here, putting on a spectacular show of colors in both urban and rural landscapes. You can spot bright yellows, deep purples, rich reds and glorious shades of gold and brown in many parts of the country. Autumn and its vibrant hues are ubiquitous.

But what do colors mean? The emotions and moods that colors evoke depend on past experiences, culture, nationality and personal preferences — sometimes gender-based. Is blue only for boys and is pink only for girls? And remember, too, that some people don’t see color at all.

Color affects mood, stirs emotions, whets appetites and even raises blood pressure. We even dream in color. So when you design a marketing product or develop a PR campaign, think carefully about:

  1. Whether you are communicating locally or globally
  2. The culture of the audience
  3. The meaning of colors and symbols
  4. The positive and negative impact of using particular colors
  5. Considerations for the visually impaired

Let’s take a closer look at the psychology of colors and their significance in effective design, cultural competency and branding.

Colors make the brand. Coke is red. Pepsi is blue. Every quality brand must live up to its promise, but don’t mistake the power of colors in building strong and loyal brand connections.

Here is a list of several popular colors, along with their meaning, cultural significance and some common uses today:

The passion of red

Red is the most emotionally intense color and it’s known to stimulate faster heartbeats and breathing. Of course, it’s also the color of blood, passion and love. Red conveys energy, action and power, but it can also appear confrontational and intimidating. Red cars are popular targets for thieves. Because of its visibility, red is used for stop signs, lights and fire trucks.

Red is an attention-getter and decorators often use it as an accent. Restaurants may use red to stimulate appetite. Entirely red rooms, however, can make people anxious. Some of the world’s most renowned organizations, companies and brands use red, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Coca-Cola, Toyota and the Chicago Bulls. In China, red implies good luck and is used for weddings. In Russia, red means beautiful.

The power of yellow

Yellow is a powerful primary color and can be eye-fatiguing. It speeds metabolism and causes eye irritation, but it also makes a great highlighter if used sparingly. Yellow rooms can make babies cry. To some, yellow symbolizes hope. People lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms. Yellow means proceed with caution.

Yellow is a color used effectively by LIVESTRONG, McDonald’s and Shell Oil. In Japan, yellow often represents courage and nobility.

The attraction of orange

Orange is another color that attracts attention. It’s associated with warmth, cheerfulness and friendliness. Like red, orange is an excellent appetite stimulant. It’s also popular around Halloween.

Think about Home Depot, MasterCard and the Baltimore Orioles. In the Netherlands, orange symbolizes royalty. Orange (saffron) is a sacred and auspicious color in Hinduism.

The popularity of blue

Blue is the most popular color and is easy on the eyes. Blue signifies tranquility, harmony, patience and understanding. Its potential negative qualities are passiveness, coldness and depression. Blue is also a natural appetite suppressant, so it isn’t a good choice for restaurant decor. Blue relaxes people. Wearing blue to an interview indicates loyalty. Studies show that students and weightlifters perform better in blue rooms.
It’s the color used by many nonprofits and corporations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, JetBlue, Exxon, Ford and Blue Cross Blue Shield. In Mexico, blue is a color of mourning.

The freshness of green

Green has many symbiotic meanings. The most common one is nature. Green is the color of money in the United States. It signifies good health, life, youth, freshness and vigor. Green means go. However, green can also reflect envy and greed. Green is the easiest color on the eyes and can help improve vision. Like blue, green has a calming effect on the nervous system.

It’s a popular color in hospitals and waiting rooms because it relaxes people. Think about Girl Scouts of the USA, 4-H, John Deere, Starbucks and the Green Bay Packers. Green is the national color of Ireland.

The creativity of purple

Purple is a royal color and often represents wealth, nobility and passion. Purple is artistic, feminine and romantic. Purple stimulates creativity. It’s the team color for the Minnesota Vikings. And don’t forget Prince and “Purple Rain.”

The style of black

Black is a color of authority. It speaks with power, style, mystery, elegance and sophistication. It may also symbolize evil, death and mourning. Priests wear black because it signifies submission to God.

The many uses of white

White reflects light and is an excellent base color. In Western culture, brides often wear white. Doctors and nurses also wear white to imply sterility. It may symbolize innocence and purity. A white dove conveys peace to many and a white flag is the universal symbol for truce. White means mourning in China and Japan.

Remember the old adage: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So are people’s emotional and individual responses to colors and their combinations.


Bill Weger, M.A.
Bill Weger, M.A., is senior partner of Image One PR. He has more than 25 years of experience in public relations and has received more than 55 national and international awards for marketing and communications excellence.


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