Bad Luck Numbers, Cultural Beliefs and Global Marketing

Bad Luck Numbers, Cultural Beliefs and Global Marketing

bad luck numbers

Do you believe in any “bad luck numbers?” Companies that sell their products and services internationally often underestimate the importance of being familiar with the target culture. More often than not, what you don’t know about a local market can hurt your brand. A lack of cultural awareness frequently becomes evident through mistranslations. Many companies innocently request a translation of a product name, tagline, or brand name, but fail to test the concept in the local market prior to launch.

In reality, cross-cultural misunderstandings are not limited to the realm of the linguistic. An unfortunate gesture, the wrong color, or even something as simple as a number can mean the failure of a campaign. Consider this example: you’re booking a trip overseas with a foreign airline. Would you like to sit in row number 13 on flight 666? Probably not, if you live in the United States or many other Western societies. However, if you live in other parts of the world, you might not think twice about it. On the contrary, you might actually hang 666 above your doorway for good luck – and you might consider 13 a lucky number too.

International marketing managers and product managers are typically unaware of how big of a role numerical superstitions can play in the success – or failure – of a given campaign or product launch. However, some veterans proceed with caution where numbers are concerned. Consider these examples:

  • Japanese camera maker Fuji typically skips the series 4 and jumps directly from series 3 to series 5, because the number 4 is considered bad luck in Japan.
  • For similar reasons, Olympus moved from its E-PL3 system directly to E-PL5 and skipping E-PL4.
  • Canon introduced its Powershot G15, skipping both G13, due to 13 being an unlucky number in the West, and G14, due to the number 4 being a bad luck number in the East.
  • In Italy, Renault sold its R17 model as R177, because the number 17 is considered unlucky by many Italians.

To learn more about the diverse landscape of “bad luck numbers” throughout the world, check out the infographic here.

* This article can also be found on Huffington Post!

About Nataly Kelly

Nataly brings nearly two decades of translation industry experience to Smartling, most recently as Chief Research Officer at industry research firm Common Sense Advisory. Previously, she held positions at AT&T Language Line and NetworkOmni (acquired by Language Line), where she oversaw product development. A veteran translator and certified court interpreter for Spanish, she has formally studied seven languages, and is currently learning Irish. A former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics, Nataly lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working, you’ll usually find her translating Ecuadorian poetry, writing books, and exploring the world (36 countries and counting!).


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