New Study Says U.S. "Red, White & Blue" Image is Getting Tarnished Abroad

21 Oct 2004|Added Value

Redwood Shores, Calif. October 21, 2004 — Americans typically view themselves in the colors of their beloved flag, “Old Glory” — patriotic red, white and blue. But a new international study of nearly 13,000 consumers in 17 countries—the largest geographically balanced study on color to date—revealed that 20 percent of the global population outside the United States associates America with the color black, a shade that means death, hate, sadness and danger.

France in particular takes a “noir” view of the U.S.; 34 percent of French respondents equate the U.S. with black. But the French are not alone: 31 percent of Swedes, 29 percent of Brazilians, 27 percent of Russians, and 24 percent of Germans all take a dim view of America.

The study also found that citizens within countries can associate themselves with colors completely unrelated to flags. The majority of Australians, for example, see their country as yellow and green despite its blue and red flag. Americans, however, are very flag-centric; the overwhelming majority strongly associate themselves with red, white and blue while only four percent choose black.

The findings are in a report entitled, “GLOBAL MARKET BIAS: PART 1- COLOR,” part of a series examining the underlying forces that influence brand-driven global markets. The research was conducted jointly by three firms specializing in global marketing: Cheskin, a research and consulting firm based in California; MSI-ITM International, an expert in online research based in the Netherlands; and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library, a global photography resource based in San Francisco. The summary report with color study highlights is available on the web sites of each firm (see Editor’s Note for web site addresses).

Researchers analyzed responses from 12,929 men and women; participating countries included: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Respondents were first asked to choose a favorite color, then focus on eight colors — red, blue, green, purple, orange, yellow, black and white — and rate them in terms of association with attributes, countries, companies and products.

The Role of Culture, the Importance of Speed
Why would some people think black is a color to depict America? The study authors contend that embedded cultural differences can play a role in shaping global perception, be it about countries or brands.

Notes Davis Masten, chairman and catalyst of Cheskin: “Color is an integral part of communications and culture, one way people make sense of themselves.  When it comes to building a global identity, cultural relevance is crucial. Making brands culturally relevant and global at the same time is a challenge facing marketers, an important one because there are billions of dollars in the balance.” The right colors, he adds, are key to brand relevance.

Current events may also come into play. Paul Strasser, managing director of MSI-ITM, says up-to-date information helps decipher any global situation: “Using PlanetPanel®, an online research community, we fielded this study in 17 countries and had data ready for analysis within two weeks. That gave us a very accurate, fresh picture of world attitudes.  That’s valuable, because global markets are growing and changing so quickly, especially in Asia/Pacific. We’re trying to foster a higher level of understanding of this dynamic global consumer.”

Clement Mok, founder and president of CMCD/Visual Symbols Library, adds: “CMCD is interested in understanding the visual language that is important in marketing on a global scale. This series of research will help us provide images that are appropriate and timely to global marketers.”

More Highlights From the Color Study
The color study is the first initiative in a multi-part research series examining visual and brand language around the world. Subsequent studies, already underway, will explore brand elasticity around the globe, the impact of non-celebrity spokespeople of varying cultural backgrounds, and brand identity and packaging.

Further highlights from the Color Study include:

  • The World’s Favorite Color
  • Asia: Seeing Color in a Different Light. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are often strikingly at odds – with other nations, and amongst themselves
  • Brands: A Color Report Card. How tightly are brands connected with color globally?
  • Purple: More Popular Than Ever. The world’s second-favorite is getting stronger

EDITOR’S NOTE:
– A full-color PDF file of “GLOBAL MARKET BIAS: PART 1 – COLOR”  is available for download above or at www.msi-itm.com and www.visualsymbols.com/globalstudy

ABOUT THE RESEARCHERS
Added Value Cheskin is a consulting and strategic research firm grounded in marketing and design.  It is an expert on in-depth understanding of people, their cultures and the influences that motivate them. It provides a fresh perspective that guides companies at every point of the product development process, from identifying unmet customer needs to visualizing new concepts. For more information contact info@cheskin.com.

MSI-ITM International, BV, based in Amsterdam, specializes in web-based marketing research and offers worldwide online communities for consumer, business to business, and specialty research. Its flagship service, PlanetPanel®, is the only multi-country online research community built, managed and accessed on a single platform. MSI-ITM is also pioneering the use of proprietary online research communities, allowing clients to interact with customers to better understand their attitudes and behaviors. For more information, visit www.msi-itm.com or contact p.strasser@msi-itm.com.

CMCD Visual Symbols Library is the world’s leading provider of royalty-free iconographic stock photography. Founded more than 10 years ago by design pioneer Clement Mok, CMCD is dedicated to providing designers and art directors with fresh yet timeless images at an affordable price. For more information, visit www.visualsymbols.com/globalstudy or contact info@cmcd.com

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