Why Superstitions Are Amazing Marketing Tools

Post by Nick Armstrong of WTF Marketing.

You wouldn’t know it by their reputation, but superstitions are actually a very useful marketing tool.

I’m serious.

Superstitions Are Amazing Marketing Tools

Superstitions teach us through veiled threats of impending doom about the hidden dangers that surround us, the value of everyday objects, and “common sense” better than perhaps even a first-hand recount of a bad experience.

Superstitions are also insanely pervasive, because science!

Why Superstitions Are Powerful Marketing Tools

Mirror neurons give us the ability to learn about the world by observing it.

Thus, when we see or hear of someone violating common sense and receiving their just reward, we know we’d better make up a superstitious rule for that common sense behavior and call it a superstition, because psychology! (aka Confirmation Bias).

Sort of sounds like behavior modification, right?

And what is marketing but an attempt at behavior modification in the target audience?

Increasing the chances a particular product or service is purchased, increasing readership, or changing automatic habits (like toothpaste brand loyalty)…turns out, there’s a sneaky secret to changing people’s behavior: play to their superstitions.

Take the idea that spilling salt is bad luck. This particular superstition started around 3,500 BC.

It points to the fact that salt was pretty damn valuable then.

The superstition endured, because salt was insanely valuable for thousands of years right up until electricity and refrigeration. Spilling salt was about the most wasteful thing you could do.

The salt superstition was also co-opted by Christians who wanted to save face after doing something foolish by throwing salt into the Devil’s eye: after all, more important than salt is an untarnished reputation for being cautious and pious.

Don’t open an umbrella indoors? This one seems to have originated from a period of time when fights often broke out among “civilized folk” who were so bored that dueling over honor was the thing to do.

Before that, though, you were disrespecting the God of Sun and just begging to be taken out back and stoned.

Notice that all of these things have something to do with common sense being violated?

“People like us don’t do things like this, right?”

They’re behavioral cues for how people behave and which rules they feel are important enough to scare others into believing.

Want to modify behavior to suit a marketing need? Build a superstition around it.

Make your concept “common sense” to anyone reading it, make the enemy violating this common sense, and make the benefit something like saving face by following your “common sense” solution.

Let’s Have Some Fun

Given that, it’s about time for some superstitions regarding marketing and social media to be created, don’t you think?

Here’s a few I’d like to suggest we create today:

  • Vaguebooking Leads to Disappointing Sex — Origin: from being a vapid windbag
  • Humblebragging Makes Your Teeth Fall Out — Origin: from being punched
  • If a business posts the same picture over and over again to Facebook, their favorite customer will DIE — Origin: from being spammed to death and subsequent bankruptcy from edge rank totally failing
  • Neglecting Your Blog Leads to Losing Your Voice — Origin: from having nothing to say anyway
  • Disrespecting Freelancers Leads to Appendicitis — Origin: from being a douchebag

What other behavior needs changing? Any other superstitions you’d like to see? List ’em in the comments.


About the Author: Nick Armstrong is unapologetically awesome at explaining difficult-to-grasp marketing and web technology concepts. In his day-to-day work, he helps small business owners swear less and profit more.

Nick’s business WTF Marketing has made marketing fun again for a large number of happy clients, among them Fortune 100s, solopreneurs, and everything in between, including four distinct $2M+/year businesses in Fort Collins, Colorado alone.

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  1. Bwahahaha… personally, I love vaguebooking. I realize I’m in the minority here. It makes me feel like a spy. What can I say? I’m weird. Great post, Nick!

    • Thanks Annie! 🙂

      Vaguebooking is always tempting. Especially for small business owners who want to slam on clients without revealing who those clients are – god knows I’ve been there.

      The problem is: vaguebooking from the other side makes you think the post is about you (because, you know – everything is about ME! on the internet, haha).

      So… we vaguebook and folks assume it’s about them. Unless they can construe that it’s not.

      Humblebragging just makes us think someone’s lying about their successes. It’s nonsense, really. 🙂

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