Stop at red, cross at green

The Language of Colours

Meanings are attached to colours, just as they are to words. Colours also have the power to convey moods. They are the most effective way to establish brands and companies firmly in the heads of consumers, creating a viable and sustainable brand image. This is what makes colour selection one of the most significant communication tools for global marketing and absolutely crucial for commercial success.

Choosing them wisely is, therefore, of inestimable importance for logos and figurative marks, corporate design, packaging and the product itself, but it is also essential to take cultural aspects into consideration.

The effect of colours can be mesmerising.

Whether we are aware of it or not. Expressive and efficacious, it is impossible to imagine communication without them. Throughout the world, traffic lights and stop signs send clear signals. In many cases though, the context is important for the message of the colour:

A gathering of people dressed in black may just as easily be mistaken for a group of mourners, a graduation ceremony, an exhibition opening or a punk rock concert. How long has a pink bow symbolised the birth of a girl and blue of a boy? Why is custard not blue? How did the change from red to green to the background of the yellow M of McDonalds come about?


Probably the best-known reference for colours among graphic designers, designers, publishing houses, printing companies and in the paint industry, it can distinguish 1,114 nuances. For over 50 years, the Pantone colour fan has ensured that printed colours look the same everywhere in the world. In 1963, Lawrence Herbert used 14 basic colours to develop a total of 500 variations. He had this printed as a sample together with a mixture code, so that it is possible to reproduce every single one exactly.

You do not always see red when you marry

In China, red and black symbolise joy and personal happiness. They are the preferred colours for wedding cards. In USA and Europe, it is quite different: here, traditionally, you marry in white. However, in many Asian countries, white is the colour of mourning and it is not the tradition to appear in white at weddings. In India, people would even be afraid that wearing pure white to this occasion would result in untimely widowhood and misfortune. In English, Italian, French and German, someone can be said to be “green” with envy. Not a nice feeling. This colour only has a positive meaning in the Middle East and in all Muslim countries. Green is sacred here. Then again, for Hindus, orange (saffron) is the holy colour, the Dutch express their reverence for their royal family in it and in contrast to both of them, in the USA, it is associated with “cheap”. In each of these countries, an orange logo would obviously have a completely different association. In addition to the traditional connotations of colours, there are also those levels of meaning, which international marketing and brand communications bring with them. Green is the colour of the environmental parties and their political activities worldwide. Coca-Cola is red, Puma likewise – both brands go hand in hand with energy and dynamism. Apple presents itself in white and black: purist, ingenious, perfect.

Pretty in Pink – football strips and Barbie dolls

In many countries, it is the custom to announce the birth of a baby with bow on the front door of the house. Today’s rule: pink for a girl, blue for a boy. In the past centuries, and even up to the 1940s, it was the exact opposite. Blue, as the colour of the Virgin Mary, was seen as particularly delicate and graceful. It was reserved for little girls. Pink on the other hand was, at least in western society, the colour for little boys. In the Rococo period, pink was even considered the latest thing in men’s fashion for a while. An equally very masculine use of colour: when Juventus Turin was founded in 1897, its first football strips were pink. The extent to which colour perception has changed since then could be read in the vilifying newspaper headlines when the club commemorated this with its away kit for the 2015 season. Nowadays, it is seen almost as natural that everything that is pink should send little girls into a state of ecstasy. Whether with the market launch of Barbie in 1959 and since then, the consistent branding in typical pink have contributed to this, or the phenomenon just skilfully used it for its own purposes, one thing is certain: Barbie, with her pink accessories, is the world-famous role model for every pink fairy and princess. That the colour pink literally makes hearts beat faster, is called into question by medical research. It attests, rather, to its relaxing effect. This was made use of by some prisons. In a study of inmates in cells painted pink, a long-term calming influence on anger, rage and hostile behaviour could be observed.