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The Meaning of Colors


Disciplines > Communication > The Meaning of Colors

Meanings of color | Use in retail and business | Gender effects | Cultural effects | So what?


Meanings of color

Here is a table of colors and many of the meanings they tend to evoke, particularly in Western cultures. Notice how colors can mean very different things - it is not that the colors themselves have meaning, it is that we have culturally assigned meanings to them. For example, red means warmth because of the color of fire. Likewise, it means anger because of the increased redness of the face when it flushes with blood. Purple symbolizes royalty only because the only purple dye that was available for many centuries was very expensive.


Color Western meaning
RED: warmth, love, anger, danger, boldness, excitement, speed, strength, energy, determination, desire, passion, courage, socialism, republicans, chaos
PINK: feminine, love, caring, nurture
ORANGE: cheerfulness, low cost, affordability, enthusiasm, stimulation, creativity, aggression, food, halloween, liberal (politics)
YELLOW: attention-grabbing, comfort, liveliness, cowardice, hunger, optimism, overwhelm, Summer, comfort, liveliness, intellect, happiness, energy, conflict
GREEN: durability, reliability, environmental, luxurious, optimism, healing, well-being, nature, calm, relaxation, Spring, safety, honesty, optimism, harmony, freshness
BLUE: peace, professionalism, loyalty, reliability, honor, trust, melancholia, boredom, coldness, Winter, depth, stability, professionalism, conservatism, democrats
PURPLE: power, royalty, nobility, elegance, sophistication, artificial, luxury, mystery, royalty, elegance, magic
GRAY: conservatism, traditionalism, intelligence, serious, dull, uninteresting
BROWN: relaxing, confident, casual, reassuring, nature, earthy, solid, reliable, genuine, Autumn, endurance
BLACK: Elegance, sophistication, formality, power, strength, illegality, depression, morbidity, night, death
WHITE: Cleanliness, purity, newness, virginity, peace, innocence, simplicity, sterility, snow, ice, cold



  • Temperature
    • The more towards the red end of spectrum you go, the hotter it gets.
    • The more towards the blue/purple end of the spectrum you go, the colder it gets.
  • Weight:
    • Darker and more intense colors seem heavier.
    • Lighter colors seem, unsurprisingly, lighter.
  • Money:
    • Darker colors, such as burgundy red, tend to show opulence (they are often called 'rich' colors).
    • Dull shades, such as gray and dark browns indicate poverty.
  • Seasons:
    • Pastel and light shades are delicate, feminine, springtime.
    • Bright shades of primary colors indicate summer.
    • Earthy shades of brown, yellow and orange speak of nature and the fall.
    • Cool shades of white, black and blue represent winter.

Use in retail and business

Here are some ways in which colors are used in retail and business:

  • Red: Creates urgency - often used in sales and impulse sales
  • Green: Easy, calm - used to relax people
  • Blue: Creates trust - used by financial institutions such as banks
  • Navy blue: Cheaper - selling to price-sensitive
  • Royal blue: Urgency - selling to impulse buyers
  • Pink: Romantic - selling to women and girls
  • Yellow: Grabbing attention - used in displays and windows
  • Orange: Energizing - used to push for action, as in impulse buying
  • Purple: Calm - used in anti-aging products
  • Black: Power - selling luxury, aggressive products, or to impulse buyers

Color can even change what you taste. Customers who bought 7-Up cans that had their color changed to yellow reported that the drink tasted more lemony.

Gender effects

Men and women see colors differently. Men are generally less sensitive to color, so a subtle shade of orangey-red will just appear red. Men also see green things as more yellow than women. Women are less sensitive to color in the detail of objects and also in things which are moving quickly.

Red has been associated with romance and an American experiment offering dates with identical pictures of the same woman in different colored dresses found that a red dress was most effective in stimulating male desire.

Cultural effects

Remember that color can be culturally dependent. For example, although Black is the color of death in many countries, in China the color associated with death is White.


Color Non-Western meaning
RED: Eastern: luck, prosperity, happiness, long life, fertility, power

Some Africa: mourning

PINK: Belgium: boys (rest of Europe is girls)
ORANGE: Eastern: happiness, spiritual
YELLOW: Eastern: sacred, imperial, wisdom, male

Some Middle-East: mourning

Africa: high rank

France: jealousy

Greece: sadness

GREEN: Eastern: birth, hope, new beginnings, youth, immortality, fertility

Middle East: Islam, strength, luck, fertility, prestige

Africa: corruption

South America: death

BLUE: Eastern: immortality, life, feminine

Middle East: protection

Mexico: mourning

PURPLE: Eastern: wealth, privilege, sorrow, mourning

Brazil: death, mourning

BROWN: Eastern: earth, mourning
BLACK: Eastern: wealth, health, boys, mystery, evil
WHITE: Eastern: death, mourning, funerals, sadness, purity, age, misfortune

Middle East: purity, mourning

So what?

So use the color in situations where you are trying to persuade. Use shades of brown and green to relax people and say you are environmentally friendly. Use red to kick people into action. And so on.

McDonald's, apparently, use red and yellow because red=fast and yellow=hunger (hence fast food!).

Remember also that meaning is what we create. It does not exist in the color itself and individual meanings may or may not exist in different cultures and individuals.

See also

Meaning, Color Schemes



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