Regional colour remains a key consideration when it comes to global nuances. People are strongly connected to their colour heritage and colour analysts need to understand these distinctions. Here, we look at the global reach of red.



Red has an illustrious history. This colour is thought to be the first ever harnessed by human creativity; it is daubed on the walls of Lascaux by prehistoric man tracing shapes of cows and horses, used in the form of red ochre for burial rituals in Pre-Columbian culture and painted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs. Later, red was reserved for Roman generals and favoured by royalty and the church.



Sensuality and red are inextricably entwined, particularly in the West where complicated and often conflicted attitudes to women’s sexuality mean that red can be seen as erotic celebration (as with red lipsticks and Marilyn Monroe’s sequined red dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) or equally as punishment (the red ‘A’ that announces adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlet Letter, set in 17th century Puritan Massachusetts).



Red is also a short hand for political upheaval, violence and change. The colour became synonymous with the Russian Revolution and a key part of the visual message of radical political art in the early 20th century. ‘Reds’ even became a nickname for communists.



Ironically, considering its links with revolution and socialism, red is also the colour of commercial persuasion, especially in the US. In research conducted at the University of Wisconsin, it has been found that red enhances visual memory; no wonder then that Coca Cola’s packaging has been one of the most successful of all time.



Across the globe, this is a colour that works remarkably well for packaging everything from sweets (Lindt’s Lindor), fast food (McDonalds fries) to airlines (Virgin) and even toothpaste (Colgate). Red is also believed to stimulate appetite; this is why there is such a plethora of food packaging in the colour.



With so many diverse meanings, it is perhaps not a surprise that red is the subject of frequent change in nuances. The impact of red’s traditional and cultural references is often felt and it is common for a specific region to correct colours to something considered more authentic.



In Asia, red is the colour of good fortune and joy, with China in particular associating it with happiness. With these positive connotations, red is hugely popular in this region and has a very traditional feel. 



India’s relationship with red is often linked to religion; in Hinduism it is one of the colours used in religious ceremonies and is linked with marriage and births.



In sharp contrast, in many African states it is associated with death and aggression so should be used with caution. Although it should be noted that not the entire continent subscribes to this, in Egypt red is linked to good fortune.



Likewise, Latin America often expresses concerns over the ‘serious’ and powerful association of bold reds and will occasionally adapt to either a more orange tone, or vibrant pink. This is considered a more positive and uplifting addition to palettes.



Red, a powerful colour by nature, can be divisive in terms of symbolism, association and even applications across different regions.



There is often a thin line walked between passion and sensuality on one side, danger and violence on the other. With red, context is everything.



MIX Magazine is a quarterly print and digital publication by our creative agency, Colour Hive and is available as part of Colour Hive membership.


Duha Group is a global, industry leading manufacturer of innovative colour marketing tools. We specialise in colour matching, colour mass reproduction and colour system management.


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