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Social Localization: Flags & Colors
Leon Z. Lee
6/1/2003



Utmost care should be taken when using national flags and colors for marketing communication, website localization, and product branding. These symbols carry specific social - political - ethnic - religious connotations, which may not be consistently interpreted across all regions in East Asia.

National Flags.
China: Denotes nationalism, cultural heritage, and affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party. It also fosters the so-called "Greater China" doctrine of de facto socio-economic cooperation among China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the overseas ethnic-Chinese communities in the Americas, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

Taiwan: Identifies a de facto 50-year independent nation-state separate from and in semi-political opposition to China. However, it also simultaneously identifies intimate historic, cultural, and linguistic affiliation with China. Nevertheless, there have been incidents of China-based customers formally protesting display of Taiwan's flag on e-Commerce websites.

Japan: Due to historic sensitivities since the postwar era, its flag has been primarily used for sporting and diplomatic events. Utilizing the flag as part of marketing campaigns is severely frowned upon by the Japanese audience due to socio-political considerations. Unabashed displays of the national flag are generally associated with domestic ring-wing ultra-nationalistic groups.

South Korea: Flag conveys nationalistic and cultural identification. The cosmogony and trigram emblems within the flag convey social and quasi-religious foundations of modern Korean society. Meticulous care must be observed so as not to inadvertently display the communist North Korea flag for the South Korea audience, for it will bring immediate customer condemnation.

Vietnam: Current national flag was previously associated with communist North Vietnam during its civil war against South Vietnam before 1975. Hence, it possesses severe negative connotations when displayed in marketing or cultural events for ethnic Vietnamese communities in the Americas, Europe, and Australia since a majority of them fled communist persecution decades past.

Color Nuance
By far, color is probably the most vibrant localization symbol due to its abstract quality. More often than not, color interpretations invoke socio-emotional reactions and are often contradictory among multi-customer regions.

White: In the West, it refers to "Piety, Purity, Matrimony." In the East, it is the color worn during funeral rites. However, in Vietnam it is also used in traditional clothing so as to fend off the heat in the high temperate climates in Southeast Asia.

Black: For the West, it is the traditional color worn during funeral rites, but is also a color of formality. In East Asia, this is strictly a color of formality. However, in the former Portuguese colony of Macao, this color was specifically assigned to Taxi automobiles. Hence, Macao businesspeople are somewhat amused to witness the desire of Americans to drive black "taxi-colored" sports cars.

Red: Denotes the color of passion and affection in the West. For Chinese-based societies in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, this is the color of "Matrimony, Happiness, and Cultural Festivals." However, in Japan it conveys negative merchandising connotation, for it is the color of price tags used for cheap products and liquidation sales.

Blue: Mutual color of peace and tranquility for both East and West. In addition, traditional Chinese operas often portray this color for "Good & Virtuous" characters. In the West, alternate meaning may include "Solitude, Self-Reflection, Somber State."

Yellow: Color of sympathy in the West, but possesses dual meanings in the East. Yellow with a richer hue previously denoted Imperial or Aristocratic members. In addition, traditional Chinese operas often portray this color for "Confrontational & Malicious" characters.

Grey: Neutrality is the main theme of this color in the West. However, for East Asian, it indirectly projects "Ill fortune" due to its association with funeral cremations rites.

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