In the short time I’ve been in Asia, I’ve come to appreciate colour in a whole new way.
Where in the West we tend to associate colours with functional or emotional attributes (eg, red for stopping power, blue for being trusted), in Asia, colour is invested with a much deeper significance. Each one has a different story and meaning behind it, which gives a unique insight into the culture at hand.
Thailand is an interesting example. Many foreigners are a little taken aback to find that everyone, from kids to businessmen, tend to wear yellow on a Monday. Colour plays a significant role in Thai culture, with each day of the week associated with a specific one. These associations come from ancient beliefs that still hold significance in modern day Thailand – many believe that wearing the colour of the day will bring them good luck. Yellow is considered particularly auspicious… according to Hindu myth, the god Phra Isuan captured 14 angels and turned them into powder. He wrapped this powder in a yellow cloth, sprinkled holy water onto it and turned them into the yellow Moon.
These days, wearing coloured t-shirts is more likely to display loyalty to the reigning monarchy. For example, the Thai’s much-loved King Bhumibol happened to be born on a Monday – so since 2006, Thai people have worn yellow shirts every Monday as a sign of love and respect. Following a three week stint in hospital, the King emerged wearing a pink shirt and blazer. The media and retailers picked up on the trend, and a shop owned by the Crown Princess sold out of 40,000 pink shirts in one month alone. Yes, the colour pink became the new yellow in Thai fashion…
An American chewing gum company didn’t have as much luck when they launched with green wrappers in China a few years ago. After a period of no sales, they discovered that green has very negative connotations. The colour is associated with infidelity – a cuckolded man is shown wearing a green hat. Needless to say sales significantly increased when they changed their wrappers to pink (Surya Vanka, University of Illinois), which is much more positively associated with good luck.
A Japanese manufacturer shared a similar fate when they tried to sell black scooters in India. While black is considered stylish and sophisticated in Japanese culture, in India, it’s regarded as inauspicious, negative and represents a lack of desirability. It’s no surprise, then, that not too many mothers were keen on their sons driving ‘death’ scooters! Again, sales improved significantly when they removed black from their colour palette.
So as these colourful tales suggest, it’s important to understand the stories and meaning behind colours within Asian societies. They give an insight into the unique perspective of a particular culture. They also illustrate the need for major consideration when choosing the colour palette for a brand or product than may be necessarily needed in the West. Because in Asia, a colour is not just a colour, after all…
Written by Ellie Nuss