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Case Study 2: Red and Colors that POP!

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

Today’s topics:

  • Bright red = reduced price

  • Highly contrasted colors = “loud” 

As we saw last week, Japanese customer-faced websites favor a streamlined and “clean” look with hues of blue and white. Okay.

You might say, “But what about bright colors like red?” After all, this “warm” color inspires activity and youthful energy. But the meaning of color can vary a lot from culture to culture. These meanings differ particularly in the case of Japan and the US.

So why do you find something like this on a Japanese website?


This banner says: “Online Only: Up to 70% off outlet merchandise.”

Here, the bright red draws attention and calls for action, but for Japanese consumers something red advertises a sale. When you use red and other bright colors, then, make sure they convey the message you want.

Now take a look at another example of brightly contrasting colors in advertising. This type of flyer often appears in people’s mailboxes.

You see how they splash the ad with red and yellow down the page? And that yellow starburst highlighting numbers on the upper right corner of each strip? Japanese readers associate the starburst with a manga (Japanese comics) visual convention that means SHOUTING. The yellow starburst here alerts Japanese customers to rush to the HUGE SALE!! This ad seeks to be as LOUD as possible with the red/yellow combination and the shouting design.

Since red and yellow are both primary colors, and also highly contrasting colors they POP! For Japanese consumers, that combination seems “loud.” You see, often loud = bargain to the Japanese market. Lots of red works well to send the message that something is inexpensive. If that’s not your message, you need to strategize how to use that red carefully.

In Japanese marketing and design, strong colors like red are often used sparingly as an accent. Strong colors may also emphasize “exotic” (and therefore un-Japanese) qualities. In this example, they use red pillows subtly for a classy look.

Subtlety is important in the Japanese marketplace, where little goes unnoticed. Japanese corporations begin from detail and build up from there, as opposed to American corporations that favor going from the “big picture” to determining the “details” later. We’ll tackle that topic for the next post. Stay tuned...


Do you have a website or other marketing/advertisement material you want me to analyze? If you do, get in touch with me at One.Trans.Literacy [at] or at +1-858-256-5137. 

Further readings on color usage in the American market:

“Color Psychology In Marketing: The Complete Guide” by Julie Neidlinger

“The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding” by Gregory Ciotti  

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