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Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät

Bachelorarbeit

The Importance of Superstitious Beliefs for


Consumer Behavior
Vorgelegt am: Lehrstuhl für Allgemeine Betriebswirtschafts-
lehre, insbesondere Internationales Marketing

Vorgelegt bei: Martin Eisend

Vorgelegt von: Armandina Vogel

Schönfließer Str. 26A 15326 Lebus

015229243645

nina.vogel6@googlemail.com

Matrikelnummer: 26681

Vorgelegt am: 05.05.2010


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Table of Contents

1 Introduction ....................................................................................... 1
2 Theoretical Background ..................................................................... 2
2.1 Definition of Superstition ............................................................. 2
2.2 Common misconceptions about superstition................................. 2
3 Why do people engage in superstitious behavior? .............................. 3
4 Consumers and the illusion of control ................................................ 4
4.1 Illusory control ............................................................................. 4
4.2 Instrumental use of superstition .................................................... 5
5 Believing in superstition to fulfill needs............................................. 6
6 The Macroeconomic effects of superstition........................................ 7
7 Chinese consumers ............................................................................ 7
7.1 Superstitious practices in China.................................................... 8
7.2 Reducing anxiety.......................................................................... 9
7.3 Superstition in the Chinese marketplace ..................................... 10
7.3.1 Superstitious decision-making............................................... 10
7.3.2 The effects of superstition and product satisfaction ............... 11
7.4 Valuable housing attributes ........................................................ 12
7.5 Perception of brand names.......................................................... 13
7.6 Lucky price endings ................................................................... 14
8 Superstition in Western societies ..................................................... 15
8.1 Superstitious beliefs in business ................................................. 15
8.2 The fear of tempting fate ............................................................ 16
8.3 The Omnipresence of Superstition.............................................. 16
8.4 Uncertainty, risk-avoidance, and superstition ............................. 17
9 Conclusion....................................................................................... 17
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1 Introduction

Across consumer domains, countless displays of superstitious behavior can be


found. However, very little research has been done on how superstitious beliefs af-
fect consumer behavior (Kramer/Block 2008a). This evident lack of research comes
as a great surprise given the strong impact superstitious beliefs have on the market-
place. In Taiwan, every year from August 28 to December 15, car sales decline 30
percent because of the “ghost month”. During this time, “traditional” Chinese people
pay special respect to their ancestors. They believe that if they do not do so, their
ancestors will become unhappy and return to the realm of the living to make things
difficult (The Economist 1993). Moreover, risk-aversion based on superstitious be-
liefs involves huge financial costs. For example, in the United States, nearly 900 mil-
lion USD are lost in business on each Friday the 13th since people neither want to go
to work, nor tend to business that day (Block/Kramer 2007). Superstitious behavior
can even be found in the consumption of food. For instance, U.S. soldiers in the 2003
Iraq war would not eat apricots because they believed them to bring bad luck (Phil-
lips 2003).

Superstition does not only affect the personal lives of people, it also spills out into
the marketplace, affecting consumers and managers alike. Furthermore, business has
become increasingly multinational, so firms need to be aware of the cultural impera-
tives of the country they will conduct business with (Simmons/Schindler 2003). This
paper will try to expose available academic research and literature, in order to dem-
onstrate how superstitious beliefs can deeply affect consumer behavior. This includes
consumers’ attitude, satisfaction, and purchase likelihood. Next, it will show how the
different communication elements influence consumers, heightening or diminishing
their superstitious beliefs. Finally, it will attempt to highlight the relevance of super-
stition in the marketplace, both in terms of theory and practice.
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2 Theoretical Background

2.1 Definition of Superstition


Superstitions are beliefs that are inconsistent with the known laws of nature or
with what is generally considered rational in a society (American Heritage Diction-
ary 1985). They date back thousands of years and continue to the present
(Kramer/Block 2008b). Superstitions can be invoked either to bring good luck or bad
luck and can be found everywhere in the world. However, they are mostly specific to
culture. For example, by putting up mirrors in their homes, the Chinese try to deflect
bad luck (Simmons/Schindler 2003). In the U.S., people knock on wood for good
luck, hang horseshoes on walls, and avoid walking under a ladder or breaking a mir-
ror (Kramer/Block 2008b).

2.2 Common misconceptions about superstition


It is a mistaken belief, that only the less intelligent or less educated are supersti-
tious. According to Mowen and Carlson (2003), superstitious beliefs are not corre-
lated to education level, age, or social status. Interestingly enough, the researchers
found that a higher need for material possessions actually led to a greater supersti-
tious belief. For example, despite their MBAs, many Japanese managers seek advice
from Ebisu the Shinto god of business. Ebisu is also one of the seven Shinto gods of
good luck. To get an idea of the magnitude of superstitious beliefs in Japan, 96 mil-
lion Japanese claim to be Shintoist (Tsang 2004).

Superstition is considered to be a belief based on fear or ignorance, hence the


negative feelings associated with it. Moreover, the term superstition is usually asso-
ciated with undesirable characteristics in a social framework. For instance, Gallup
and Newport (1991) found that around 56 percent of Americans define themselves as
“not at all superstitious”. However, they also discovered that 74 percent read their
horoscopes. This evidences the fact that “being superstitious” is not a desirable quali-
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ty in Western society. Since people hesitate before admitting to having such beliefs,
they associate them with ignorance and primitiveness.

3 Why do people engage in superstitious behavior?

People around the world engage in superstitious behavior, despite being members
of a modern, “scientific” society. There are several psychological paradigms underly-
ing the superstition phenomenon, but there has been little research of these principles
as they relate to marketing. According to Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2008), super-
stitious behavior is mostly initiated by the hope of a favorable outcome. However,
superstitious behavior is mostly continued out of anticipated regret, or fear of discon-
tinuing the behavior and risking a negative outcome. Above all, what all superstitious
beliefs have in common is the desire for a positive outcome. In other words, people
expect to do well on a subsequent task. Either it is a student taking a lucky charm to
an exam, an athlete not changing his socks during a tournament, or a job applicant
wearing a lucky outfit to an interview.

A great deal of superstitious beliefs are driven by the culture the individual lives
in, without the individual himself having any faith in its instrumentality. Examples of
this behavior are the throwing of rice at a newlywed couple, and the crushing of a
lemon under the wheels of a new car in India. Individuals exhibiting such behavior
are motivated by a desire to strengthen or maintain their social ties. Even though it
might be possible that some of them originated based on perceived instrumentality,
they transformed into rituals over a period of time (Vaidyanathan et al. 2007). These
beliefs are driven by social norms rather than a belief in the usefulness of the behav-
ior. In East Asian cultures, people feel a stronger pressure to follow social norms
compared to individuals coming from Western countries. East Asians also lean more
towards social-need-satisfaction rituals than Westerners (Vaidyanathan/Aggarwal
2008).
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Furthermore, some people engage in proactive superstitious behavior (e.g., carry-


ing a lucky charm) while others display a more passive superstitious belief (e.g., be-
lief in fate) (Cheng/Geng 2008). When a superstitious belief is associated with a
situation beyond control, such as the stars’ position on a person’s birthday, it tends to
become a passive superstitious belief. Likewise, a superstitious belief that allows
more control, like carrying lucky charms, will become a proactive superstitious belief
(Hernandez et al. 2008). Proactive superstitious beliefs also include the belief in su-
perstitious rituals and they permit individuals to seek control over things around
them. They can be considered “positive” superstitions and serve a different psycho-
logical function than “negative superstitions”. Positive superstitions are usually re-
lied on to cope with stress (Tsang 2004). Therefore, proactive superstitious beliefs
are in a way an individual’s struggle to repel bad forces and attract good forces.

4 Consumers and the illusion of control

4.1 Illusory control


The illusion of control is a tendency, human beings exhibit, to believe they can
influence or manipulate events over which they evidently have no control (Langer
1975). Superstition, according to Wegner and Wheatley (1999), is born from “illu-
sory control”. Whenever an action precedes an outcome, and the outcome is consis-
tent with one’s intentions (being the action the only available explanation), one is
inclined to believe that this action caused it to happen. In other words, individuals
tend to be susceptible to the illusion that they may affect events through actions,
which by all rational accounts, should not impact the event in question (Hamerman
2009). According to Wegner and Wheatley (1999), the pre-requisites of priority,
consistency, and exclusivity must be fulfilled in order for illusory control to occur. It
is by these principles that people can be tricked into thinking that they exercise con-
trol over an event. The principle of priority means that an action must happen before
the event. The second principle, consistency, is fulfilled if the outcome matches the
person’s intentions. The third principle, exclusivity, is only fulfilled when there ap-
pears there is no alternative explanation for an event.
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4.2 Instrumental use of superstition


Hamerman (2009) studied how irrational beliefs about magic and control regu-
larly influence consumer behavior. He explained that in some situations, consumer
purchases are considered instruments to control an outside event. Meaning, consum-
ers are not always attempting to purchase an item merely for its attributes. They also
adopt superstitious strategies to influence their purchasing behavior when they think
they can control an outside event with their buying decision. This phenomenon will
even take place despite the fact that individuals know this control to be an illusion.

In one study (Hamerman 2009), individuals took part in a “trivia night” at two
separate restaurants of different quality. Before playing, they were told that their
chances of winning were exactly the same at both restaurants, and they were asked to
report their preferences for each restaurant. Next, they played four rounds of trivia,
two at each establishment. They were then given false feedback: one group was told
the scores were equal at both restaurants, the second group was told the scores dif-
fered between the two locales. Following the feedback, they were asked to report
their preferences for each restaurant again. The results of the study suggested the
participants had allowed the feedback on their performance to influence their prefer-
ence of restaurant. However, the respondents displayed this behavior unconsciously.
When asked about what influenced their decision when rating the restaurants, they
mostly responded their decision was influenced by the “quality of the meal”, “ambi-
ence”, or “location”.

These results support the notion that purchase decisions are strategically influ-
enced by superstitious beliefs in order to control outside events. Hence, consumers
may base their choices on magical thinking, in spite of being aware that this idea of
control is irrational. Furthermore, Case et al. (2004) studied the relationship between
individuals using superstitious strategies and their perceived sense of control. They
found that with an increasing likelihood of failure, the use of superstitious beliefs
augmented accordingly.
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5 Believing in superstition to fulfill needs

According to Vaidyanathan et al. (2007), superstitious behavior is used to fulfill


needs. They classified these needs into three types: Functional Needs, Psychological
Needs, and Social Needs. First, functional needs are driven by an individual’s per-
ception of his own luckiness. As Darke and Freedman (1997) explained, an individ-
ual’s belief in his own luckiness is a stable personal trait. Functional needs are satis-
fied by the illusion of control. Hence, when lottery players pick their own numbers,
their expectations of success become greater.

Second, psychological needs’ satisfaction lies in counterfactual thinking, which


means people evaluate outcomes in relation to alternate events that should, might, or
could have happened. For example, a person who is thinking about buying a lottery
ticket might imagine himself or herself not buying it and having the ticket being the
actual winner. This form of anticipated regret is a driving force for superstitious be-
lief. Moreover, psychological needs can be met in two ways. One is to continue a
ritual and hope for future positive outcomes, while achieving some emotional com-
fort. The second way is to continue a ritual and by doing so, avoiding a negative out-
come. This is explained by the “dread effect”, some individuals think that if they
discontinue their superstitious behavior some bad thing will happen.

Third, as Vaidyanathan et al. (2007) explain, social learning triggers the social
need satisfaction dimension. Individuals seek social acceptance and they base a large
amount of their superstitious behavior on following traditions and observing others.
As a result, they can identify themselves better with their group. Subsequently,
Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2008) built on the above-mentioned needs model.
Based on its propositions, they drew some clear implications for marketers and pub-
lic policy makers. They found the more individuals believe they can control a future
outcome with a superstitious ritual, the greater their denial will be when receiving
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counter-belief feedback. Additionally, individuals will believe more strongly in the


effectiveness of a superstitious object if they took an active part in choosing it.

6 The Macroeconomic effects of superstition

Superstition has always deeply impacted human behavior. It has even generated
macroeconomic effects in the most developed societies. Anterasian et al. (1996)
mentions an example of this effect. In Japan during the year 1966, there was a 25%
drop in the number of births. This sudden drop in only one year entailed all sorts of
trouble for those companies selling baby cribs in 1966 and bicycles in 1972. Simi-
larly, in 1984, colleges and universities could not get enough students to enroll, nor
could employers fill their positions with new graduates in 1988. In many parts of
Asia, where Chinese influence is strong, every year is associated with one of 12 ani-
mals. For example, 1996 was the year of the Rat. The years 1966, 1978, and 1990
were years of the Horse. The Japanese believe in “heigo”, the year of the “Fire”
horse. The last one was 1966, and it is quite special since it only happens once every
sixty years. According to superstition, females born in the year of the Fire Horse are
destined to unhappiness and may kill their husband if they marry. Apparently, this
superstition kept many people from having children that year.

7 Chinese consumers

China includes the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
It is of particular importance given that it is the largest country in the world and
holds nearly one quarter of the world’s population, soon it will even become the
largest market in the world (Simmons/Schindler 2003). Thus, the importance of the
Chinese consumer cannot be overstated. Furthermore, countries like Singapore are
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still based on Chinese culture and add to the significant importance of understanding
this culture. Hence, it is crucial for companies with global aspirations to develop a
powerful brand in the Chinese markets (Chang/Lii 2008).

Furthermore, China has increasingly become a consumer society and its rising
middle-class has earned the attention of marketers and academics alike. By 2020,
700 million Chinese are expected to join the “consumer class”. In comparison, in
2008, they were less than 100 million. Hence, that amounts to an additional five
times actual consumer spending during the next 20 years. This gigantic market size
and broad array of consumer segments imply serious challenges for marketers; Chi-
nese consumers are inclined to find several meanings for the same products, since
meanings depend on their significant social relationships (Cheng/Geng 2008).

There are some essential cultural values that distinguish Western Culture from
Chinese Culture. One of them is the belief that there is no separation between hu-
mans, nature, and the supernatural. Since they are all part of a great whole, they
should all be equally respected. Thus, this respect for the supernatural suggests that
superstition influences Chinese culture (Simmons and Schindler 2003).

7.1 Superstitious practices in China


Examples of Chinese superstition are plentiful. For instance, the color red is asso-
ciated with good luck, as well as the number 8. In Chinese, the number 8 (ba) is pro-
nounced similar to fa, which means “enrichment” or “to get rich”. It also sounds like
fu, meaning “lucky”. Thus, the number 8 is associated with good luck and prosperity.
Both of these characteristics are especially beneficial in commercial interactions. In
contrast, the number 4 (si) sounds almost exactly like “to die”, and is therefore asso-
ciated with death. This negative connotation of the number is so strong that its effects
are widespread. The unlucky number 4 is omitted in many building floors.
9

During the Chinese New Year, older relatives give children “lucky” red envelopes
with money inside. It has been observed that every morning before opening their
stores, small shop owners take a large denomination bill and touch every item in the
store with it, by doing this they tell the items they should be sold (Sim-
mons/Schindler 2003).

Feng Shui, which literally means “wind water”, is a traditional belief that affects
daily lives in many Chinese communities (Simmons/Schindler 2003). It is centuries
old and consists on the strategic placing of objects with the goal of bringing good or
bad fortune. Companies will even go so far as to hire geomancers to tell them
whether an office or a building is facing the correct direction. They consider this im-
portant in order to appease the wind and water spirits, and to attract good “chi”,
meaning “environmental force”. An office building may even stay empty because of
“bad feng shui”. The Chinese want to prevent “sha chi”, the destructive environ-
mental forces, by placing furniture or even buildings, correctly. These practices also
extend to other aspects of business. When planning business-related banquets, they
go through great efforts so that the number of courses, the number of guests, and
particularly the placement of people are in accordance to feng shui principles. Evi-
dently, the Chinese are some of the most superstitious people in the world. Similarly,
in India, people are generally quite superstitious. For instance, the vaastu shastra is a
very popular superstitious practice among Indians. It seeks to create harmony among
the five basic environmental elements: water, air, earth, fire, and sky (Tsang 2004).

7.2 Reducing anxiety


Investors are consumers of financial products and they are just as influenced by
superstition as other consumers. For Chinese investors, superstitious beliefs are a
means to suppress what is called “Uncertainty-Induced Anxiety” (Tsang 2004). Sim-
ply put, a decision-making process is usually lengthened by uncertainty, which in
turn creates anxiety. Apparently, every society has its own ways to sooth anxiety. For
Chinese managers, superstition can become a stress-management technique. For ex-
ample, a Chinese businessman who cannot decide on which building to invest on
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may make a decision after consulting a feng shui expert. Not only does this speed up
the decision-making process, but it also relieves his anxiety.

7.3 Superstition in the Chinese marketplace

7.3.1 Superstitious decision-making

Kramer and Block (2008a) broke new ground and examined the role of lucky and
unlucky features on products for Taiwanese consumers. Since in China the number 8
is associated with good luck and prosperity, and the number 4 is associated with
death, they found that when a product is associated with either of these numbers, it
becomes either a lucky or an unlucky product. To establish the importance of num-
bers in Chinese society, they gave several examples. There was the case of the busi-
nessman in Guangzhou, China, who bid 54,000 yuan (approximately 8,000 USD or
almost seven times the country’s per capita annual income) for a license plate with
the number 888. Then, a Chinese man who offered his license plate, A88888, on the
Internet for 1.12 million yuan (approximately 165,000 USD). Yet examples are not
limited to license plate numbers, there was also the Chinese airline who reportedly
paid 2.4 million yuan (approximately 350,000 USD) for telephone number 8888
8888. Likewise, the Beijing Summer Olympics opened at 8 p.m. on August 8, 2008.
Further, superstition was even used as a marketing ploy; Continental Airlines adver-
tised a flight with the slogan “Lucky You” going to Beijing for 888 USD. Finally,
there is the case of Hong Kong and its auctioning of special car registration numbers.
These auctions take place several times a year, and can earn the government millions
of dollars for letting people bid on numbers like 8888 (Chau et al. 2001).

Kramer and Block (2007) conducted a study aimed at proving that superstitious
beliefs affect buying intentions. In their study, they found that Taiwanese consumers
faced with two products displaying equal attributes, were more likely to buy the
more expensive product if they believed it to have a lucky trait, than the cheaper
product without the trait. For example, they would sooner buy a radio for $888 than
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one for $777, despite the 15 percent price premium. Hence, consumers will spend
more money for the same product because of the positive superstitious beliefs they
associate with the number 8. Seven is, in contrast, a neutral number. The same prin-
ciple applies to negative associations. For example, when Taiwanese consumers were
faced with the decision to buy a digital camera for $6,444.44 or $6,555.55, they
mostly decided to pay the higher price. Since Chinese culture holds a negative asso-
ciation with the number 4, but no superstitious belief about the number 5, consumers
gravitated towards the more expensive camera. Naturally, the studies ruled out the
possibility that consumers could have formed quality associations, meaning they did
not expect the higher priced item to be of better quality.

7.3.2 Effects of superstition and product satisfaction

Kramer and Block (2008a) expanded on their prior research by adding the ele-
ment of disappointment after product failure. Just like people rely on rituals hoping
that they will help their performance, individuals apply the same logic when it comes
to products (Kramer/Block 2007). They expect products, which they associate with
superstitious beliefs, to perform better than products with no superstitious associa-
tion.

They conducted a study where they gave Taiwanese consumers either a red or a
green rice cooker. Red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture and green is a
neutral color. After the rice cooker burnt the rice, Taiwanese consumers were clearly
more disappointed when the red rice cooker failed, than when the green rice cooker
broke down. As a result, superstition has a profound effect on product expectations
and product satisfaction. Next, the researchers made the Taiwanese consumers con-
scious of their superstitions before the test by letting them fill out a questionnaire on
cultural awareness. Following this, they showed equal signs of disappointment with
both rice cookers when they underperformed. Thus, Kramer and Block (2008a) con-
cluded that when an individual is aware of his superstitious beliefs, its effects disap-
pear. Therefore, a superstition needs to be allowed to act on the subconscious in or-
der for its effects to show.
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7.4 Valuable housing attributes


Real estate is a multi-dimensional commodity commonly affected by superstitious
beliefs. Studies on how its basic characteristics like location, spatial design, structure,
and environmental quality affect property prices are plentiful. However, there has
been very little research done on the effect of superstitious beliefs on housing prices.

Since apartment addresses usually bear a floor number, apartment units located on
floors such as 8 or 18 are an added benefit that no one will reject. Buyers will even
pay a premium for an address with a lucky number, or for a property they believe to
bring good luck. During economic boom periods, superstitious people often explain
their increase in wealth by the lucky number on their home property. Therefore, they
usually do not sell until the buyer offers a high premium (Chau et al. 2001).

The influence of superstition on the Hong Kong apartment market is so great, that
Chau et al. (2001) tried to predict a property market upturn or downturn depending
on the size of the premiums paid for “lucky” apartments. They hypothesized that the
size of the premium serves as a thermometer of the apartment market, and it can be
useful in assisting investment decisions. When premiums are low or nonexistent, the
market is down and about to recover. Similarly, when premiums are very high, it
should be considered as a warning sign or oncoming market downturn. They also
found buyers tend to avoid units containing the “unlucky” number 4 since it sounds
like “death” in Cantonese.

Even Hong Kong expatriates living in America are no exception. After moving to
the city of Monterey Park in California, some Hong Kong expatriates were outraged
when their “lucky” area code was changed. They used to have area code number 818,
which sounds like “prosperity, followed by more prosperity”. Apparently, many Chi-
nese nationals had moved to this particular city because of its area code (Lyster
1996).
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7.5 Perception of brand names


Ang (1997) found that quality expectations for a product were greater when con-
sumers held a positive superstitious association to the name of its brand, as opposed
to when they held no superstitious association at all. In Chinese culture, the name
given to a product or even to a person has a strong link to fate (Chang/Lii 2008). Ang
(1997) investigated Chinese consumers’ perception of brand names, and concluded
that developing an effective brand name is a critical aspect of entering the Chinese
market. An effective brand name facilitates consumer recall of new products and
conjures favorable images of the product. Furthermore, it helps consumers develop a
positive attitude towards a new product.

Ang’s (1997) research on alphanumeric brand names identified various qualities


of effective brand names. Alphanumeric are those names that contain letters and
numbers without any literal meaning. The Chinese, he explained, believe in the prin-
ciple of yin and yang. Chinese numerals can be classified as either yin or yang.
Therefore, Chinese consumers will tend to be more persuaded by numbers than by
letters. The Chinese also believe that numbers can represent the orientation and di-
rection affecting a person. This is important because it helps in the creation of repu-
table brands, which are key to creating and maintaining a winning position in the
global market (Chang/Lii 2008).

Chang and Lii (2008) also examined the link between superstitious beliefs in
China and branding practices. They studied hundreds of newspaper advertisements,
paying special attention to the names of the advertised brands. They found that in
more than half of the studied cases, marketing managers created brand names partly
on the number of “lucky” strokes drawn in order to form the characters spelling out a
brand name. The Chinese language is written with characters, each of them requiring
a certain number of “strokes” to be drawn. In other words, the managers had added
up the number of strokes needed to spell each character in their brand’s name, and
made sure it was a lucky number. Moreover, there are other aspects of brand names
14

that are considered lucky besides their total number of strokes. Among the characters
conforming brand names, more than 70 percent have meanings related to fortune,
nature, or luck. This suggests a strong link between name-giving and luck (Chang/Lii
2008).

Additionally, the researchers found evidence that reinforces Kramer and Block’s
(2008b) theory that superstitious beliefs are heightened during periods of uncertainty.
They discovered that in a highly uncertain market environment, there was an abun-
dance of “lucky total stroke number” brand names, while in a low-uncertain market
environment; the amount of such brand names was significantly smaller.

7.6 Lucky price endings


Simmons and Schindler (2003) examined one particular characteristic in the Chi-
nese market, the ending digits in advertised prices. They found that without strong
economic determinants, Chinese managers’ decisions on prices’ last digits become
especially responsive to non-economic factors. Some of these factors are things like
cultural beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes. As a result, the traditional Chinese mean-
ings of numbers influence managers’ decisions on the digits used in price endings,
particularly on advertisements. Simmons and Schindler (2003) showed that the num-
ber 8 was overrepresented among price endings in Chinese advertising. It appeared 4
times more frequently than normal probability could have predicted. Similarly, the
number 4 was underrepresented and appeared only 3 percent of the time in Chinese
advertisements.

There appears to be no Western equivalent to this phenomenon in the market-


place. In Western countries, price-ending choices are made after considering practi-
cal implications. This cultural difference is not the fact that there are no superstitious
number meanings in Western society, but that there is a divergence in the respect
accorded to superstitious beliefs. This study illustrated how simple, quantifiable
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measures, demonstrating consumer behavior-related cultural differences, can be


found.

8 Superstition in Western societies

8.1 Superstitious beliefs in business


Western cultures seem to be less superstitious than East Asian cultures. However,
the effects of their superstitious beliefs are still widespread. When it comes to busi-
ness strategy, Anterasian et al. (1996) showed U.S. managers to be very supersti-
tious. For example, there is a false notion that having a higher market share means a
company is more profitable. This has greatly impacted companies’ performance,
their shareholders and employees’ welfare, as well as society in general. To further
propel this false belief, executive incentive systems and corporate goals are usually
based on market share achievements. Companies are even evaluated in terms of mar-
ket share, hence implying “the bigger the better”.

Superstition alone profoundly influences the way people conduct economic activi-
ties. Banks commonly like to know, among other things, if a brutal murder occurred
in an apartment under consideration for mortgage, or whether a person died there of
unnatural causes (Chau et al. 2001). Moreover, Chinese companies are not the only
ones to follow the principles of feng shui, American companies have also increas-
ingly adopted the practice. Companies such as Smith and Barney and Morgan Stan-
ley have hired feng shui experts to apply these practices to their offices (Tsang
2004).

Kolb and Rodriguez (1987) studied the securities market on Friday the 13th to find
out if superstition plays a role in its performance. There have been enough empirical
studies proving that average returns vary on each day of the week, particularly on
Fridays. On this day, returns are much larger than other days. However, given the
16

negative connotation of Friday the 13th, they found that the average returns on this
day were significantly lower than those of all other Fridays. Hence, even financial
markets can be affected by superstition.

8.2 The fear of tempting fate


Risen and Gilovich (2008) explored the belief that it brings bad luck to “tempt
fate”. As the researchers explained, it is quite puzzling that in a post-Enlightenment
world, people who don’t even believe in fate still refuse to tempt it. For example,
they will not comment on a streak of success or exchange a lottery ticket, despite the
fact that there is no way the odds could change. Similarly, people think that if they
don’t carry an umbrella it is more likely to rain. They are also afraid of switching
checkout lines at the supermarket because they think their line will speed up the
moment they move away from it. The researchers found that people sense that ac-
tions that tempt fate heighten the probability of negative outcomes. Furthermore,
they proposed that this perception is mostly due to the automatic tendency to ponder
negative prospects. The concept of “tempting fate” is one of great interest to market-
ers. It regularly influences consumer behavior, despite individuals’ awareness of its
irrationality (Hamerman 2009).

8.3 The Omnipresence of Superstition


Magical thinking can even go as far as influencing academic performance. In a
test conducted by Kramer and Block (2008a), students were asked to prepare for a
test using one of two study guides. They were told one belonged to a high grade-
point average (GPA) student, and the other one to a low GPA student. Students who
were highly intuitive processors (believe their intelligence is malleable) obtained
much better results on the test when they used the study guide belonging to the high
GPA student than when they used the study guide belonging to the low GPA student.
17

8.4 Uncertainty, risk-avoidance, and superstition


Kramer and Block (2008b) conducted a study at an American university using
college students. They asked them to think about Friday the 13th and then make a
choice on a bet. For example, they were asked to choose between a guaranteed $18
and a 20 percent probability of $240. The next test consisted of making another
group of students think of a neutral day like Tuesday the 19th, and then present them
with the same betting situation. The results were surprising. The group who had
thought about Friday the 13th became more risk-adverse and chose the safest option
49 percent of the time. In contrast, the group who thought about Tuesday the 19th
chose that same option only 35 percent of the time. Kramer and Block (2008b) con-
cluded that superstitious beliefs have a profound influence on decision making under
risk. Finally, the degree of uncertainty has a direct effect on the belief. When uncer-
tainty is high, the impact of the superstitious beliefs will be greater than in a similar
situation of lower uncertainty. However, the unconscious process of superstitious
belief does not generalize to superstitious rituals (e.g., carrying a lucky charm).

9 Conclusion

The findings of this combined research have very important implications for mar-
keters. It shows marketing managers could strategically manage satisfaction, pur-
chase likelihood, and consumer attitudes by implementing relatively easy product
attribute changes according to a culture’s superstitious beliefs. In the case of Chinese
consumers, they could change the color or the price to influence their performance
expectations (Kramer/Block 2008a). Similarly, they can even influence how satisfied
the consumer will be by adding “lucky” attributes to products or choosing their
names carefully according to the “lucky total stroke number” (Chang/Lii 2008).

Furthermore, as explained by Vaidyanathan and Aggarwal (2008), marketing


managers might influence consumer behavior towards superstition-related products
18

using communication strategies such as anticipated regret and hope. This is espe-
cially true for Asian consumers, who generally hold strong superstitious beliefs. It is
worthwhile to note that the Chinese, Japanese, and Indians together make up 40 per-
cent of the world’s population and the majority of the Asian population. Conse-
quently, with the increasing trend toward globalization, it can be very profitable for
companies to become aware of the superstitious practices in the countries where they
do business (Tsang 2004). Simmons and Schindler (2003) state that in order to suc-
ceed in the Chinese market, multinational companies must be able to understand the
perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of Chinese consumers. One way to achieve this is
to observe retailer interactions in Chinese society.

There were however, some limitations found when trying to explore the impor-
tance of superstitious beliefs for consumer behavior. Since current research has
mostly been done on hypothetical choice scenarios, field studies would need to be
made to extend this research. Even though Kramer and Block (2008a) showed that
superstition is mostly based on unconscious processes, there were no tests done for
any underlying processes affecting the superstition effect, such as levels of anxiety.
Moreover, studies could be conducted to directly assess the impact of superstition on
specific consumer behaviors. It would be useful for marketers to know whether a
belief in superstition influences individuals to purchase consumer goods. Examples
of these consumer goods could be good-luck charms or the services of astrologers. It
would be optimistic to anticipate that the measure of superstition may be associated
with related consumer actions.

In conclusion, it is definitely important for marketers to reflect on local cultural


superstitions in order to create more persuasive advertisements. Based on these find-
ings, marketing managers might influence consumer behavior by emphasizing the
usefulness of a superstition-based behavior and enhancing the greatness of the out-
come. They may also engage consumers into choosing a special superstition-based
product. This could result in public policy implications, so it is important for market-
ers to make sure they are not deceiving consumers into buying ineffective products.
19

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II

Eidesstattliche Erklärung

Erklärung

Ich versichere: Ich habe die Bachelorarbeit selbstständig verfasst. Andere als die
angegebenen Hilfsmittel und Quellen habe ich nicht benutzt.

Die Arbeit hat keiner anderen Prüfungsbehörde vorgelegen.

Frankfurt/Oder, den 05.05.2010