Describing colours: the challenge that unites translating and marketing

Some colours remain impressed in our memory: Ferrari red, Lamborghini yellow, Kawasaki green, Tiffany blue… and many others.

Dear friends of STUDIO TRE, how many times have you been enticed by a car, motorbike, jewel, kitchen, garment because of its colour, without knowing anything about its specifications? Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you!

According to a study by Satyendra Pal Singh (Color Psychology in Marketing), about 90% of interaction between product and potential customer is actually conditioned by the colour of the product.

In fact, colours transmit emotions and say a lot about the identity of a brand or product, making them immediately recognisable in people’s minds and influencing the purchasing process. This is why it’s important to take great care when choosing and translating colours.

Let’s take a look at why colours are one of the most demanding challenges for translators.


Language and culture: how do they influence the perception of colour?

Numerous experiments have shown that language conditions how the brain interprets and consequently classifies a certain colour.

For example, as explained by Anna Franklin (lecturer at the University of Sussex), there are two words in Russian for the colour “blue” which are used to distinguish dark blue from light blue. The same colours identified by the Russians with two different words are perceived as the same blue by other populations. This means that Russian speakers are more receptive towards colours that belong in this range of the visual spectrum.

The same applies to the members of the Himba tribe in Namibia who find it difficult to distinguish blue from green, but are able to perceive different hues of green that look the same to some European populations.

Furthermore, the names of colours change over time: with the passing of centuries we have given some colours new names, others have lost theirs and still more have evolved. In her article, The Rainbow in Translation, Alison Kroulek mentions the case of the English term pink – used today to describe the colour pink – which, until 1733, was used to identify the dianthus, a type of carnation.


Translating colours: the 3 things a translator needs to bear in mind

Each colour not only has its own individual name but also carries a world of meaning and symbolism which can change from culture to culture. For a “customer proof” translation, the are some aspects that the translator must always consider:

  1. each language has a different number of words to classify basic colours. For the English, pink is a basic colour, whereas for the Italians, Russians and Greeks, sky blue is a basic colour;
  2. some languages only distinguish light and dark colours;
  3. The meanings attached to colours can vary from culture to culture. A few examples: for the Chinese, red is the colour of brides, for the South Africans it is the colour of mourning; yellow is a symbol of joy for Europeans but of mourning in Ancient Egypt; for Hindus orange is a sacred colour whereas in the United States it is associated with Halloween.

Considering that colour choice has a considerable influence on the sensations and reactions of potential customers, it is clear that translation plays a fundamental role within the marketing strategy behind a certain brand or product.


If you are curious to know how STUDIO TRE translators manage to preserve the communicative power of colours and their meanings across different languages, write to us at:


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