Superstitions are deeply weeded inside Asian cultures. Find out about the top three superstitions that can affect your business.
Superstitions can sometimes be harmless – like stopping when a black cat crosses the road. But at other times, they can be downright weird and affect the way a company does business. If you are an entrepreneur in Asia – whether you are superstitious or not – superstition is all around you. Some believe in ‘lucky’ shoes or dresses, others plant bamboo shoots for luck. Even if you are not one to believe in superstitions, if your customers are superstitious, it is bound to affect your business.
For instance, in the U.S. there is a fear of the number 13 called triskaidekaphobia. Around 80% of high-rise buildings in the world do not have a 13th floor, airports a 13th gate, and planes a 13th isle. This is also why around $800–$900 million in business revenue is lost on Friday the 13th.
Like culture, language, and cuisine, superstitions also vary from place to place. When your business is operating in Asia, it is crucial that you are aware of the regional superstitious beliefs. These beliefs can drive customers away in case you make a mistake. Research indicates that knowing about superstitious beliefs in a region is important for international business expansion.
Here are the top weird superstitions in Asia that affect businesses.
Fear of four
In China and Japan, the number four is a homonym of ‘death’ and is therefore viewed negatively. The fear of four, or tetraphobia, is fairly common across China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. Most customers in this region consider April 4th (04/04) as unlucky. Asian companies try to avoid this number entirely – whether in their phone numbers or in their prices.
Tetraphobia can also drive real estate prices. Neighbourhoods that have removed four from their street names have become profitable. Similarly, buildings with multiple fours lose value by up to $30,000.
In consumer goods branding, too, the importance of this superstition is palpable. Companies like Canon and Nokia introduced different model serial numbers for the Asian market, just to avoid the number four.
Good or bad numbers
Four is not the only number that commands superstitious beliefs in the East. In Japan, the number nine is considered unlucky because its pronunciation sounds like ‘suffering.’ Therefore, a price of $9.99 would be considered negative, and could make you lose customers.
In Chinese, the number eight sounds like ‘wealth’ and ‘prosper,’ which makes it a lucky number. In Taiwan, a study found that customers are willing to pay more for fewer products just to satisfy their superstition. In the study, customers were willing to pay almost 50% more to buy a pack of 8 tennis balls rather than buying a pack of 10 balls for a lower price.
Similarly, the number 666 is not considered evil in Asia like it is in the U.S. and other Western countries. In China, 666 pronunciation sounds like “things going smoothly” and is, therefore, considered to be lucky.
Learning about your target customers’ beliefs regarding numbers can help you avoid faux pas that can cost your business a pretty penny.
Careful with colors
Countries sometimes favor one color over another. For instance, red is considered a lucky color in China, which is why most brands use it in their logo or branding. The color is also favored as lucky in Vietnam.
But the important thing to ensure is that you do not use a color on your product or brand that is viewed negatively. For example, black is associated with evil in China and Japan. In Chinese, ‘black’ stands for bad luck. Similarly, brands should avoid all-white packaging in China since the color is associated with mourning.
Doing business in the East can be daunting given the differences in culture, habits, and beliefs from the West. But superstitions are ingrained in Asia and because you cannot root them out, you need to be able to use them to your advantage. For instance, companies now do Friday the 13th sales to lure customers. Ultimately, you have to ensure that your business makes the superstitions work for it rather than against it.
Header image by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash