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The Business of Superstition

Kayla Goucher

Some people walk around on Friday the 13th as if that day is totally normal. But let's face it – whether you believe in superstitions or not, a lot of us are cautious about certain things whenever Friday the 13th rolls around. Why is that?

There are a lot of uncertainties in the world that make people and brands conduct themselves in ways that give them a sense of control over those uncertainties. For example, NASA’s “lucky peanuts.” Before any launches or major missions, you may see jars of peanuts scattered around NASA’s control room. This tradition dates back to 1964 during the Ranger 7 launch when Dick Wallace passed around peanuts in hopes of calming people’s nerves. After 6 previous attempts to launch probes toward the moon, Ranger 7 was their first success. NASA’s lucky peanuts have since made an appearance every successful launch day. 

“They [lucky peanuts] help remind those doing really hard things to approach challenges with humility, because the difference between success and failure can sometimes come down to what’s beyond their control,” NASA’s website states. 


While there are far more unlucky dates throughout history, Westerners fixate on Friday the 13th as being the unlucky day. There is no definitive origin for this, but it seems to be the day that every superstition matters more than any other day. 

A study done by YouGov in 2019 found that 9% of U.S. adults consider themselves very superstitious, and 20% of participants consider themselves somewhat superstitious. While these percentages are somewhat small, it impacts businesses and markets drastically. Superstitious people will refuse to make purchasing decisions, stay off the roads, and change travel plans. The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute states that these actions, or inactions, cause an estimated $800 million to $900 million in lost revenue every Friday the 13th. 

The perception of this day negatively affects specific industries more than others, such as catering, hospitality, and transportation. Wedding planners say that Fridays and Saturdays are usually the busiest days for photographers, florists, and venues, but these vendors often have no events or profit on Friday the 13th. 

Perception is important in the business world, especially in our business of advertising, and how businesses treat Friday the 13th is a great example of that. Some businesses can benefit from an acknowledgment of the day, while others intentionally shift the focus to something entirely else in an act of pure avoidance. There’s no better example of industries who have leveraged this most superstitious of days to their favor than tattoo parlors, retail shops and insurance companies. 

Tattoo parlors made it their busiest day of the year. What originally started as $13 flash tattoos turned into an anticipated day for many with lines wrapped around the building. Although many have increased the price, the discounted deal is still a steal for many looking for a small and quick tattoo. Many tattoo parlors have started offering other discounts in their shop for the day as well, such as piercings and aftercare equipment to bring in more consumers. While studies show that people avoid making life decisions on Friday the 13th, tattoo parlors made it a great day to permanently ink your body.

Some retailers also followed suit with tattoo parlors, offering one-day discounts and deals for customers willing to press their luck. Some brands release a Friday the 13th collection in order to get attention from audiences who are drawn to the abnormal. E-commerce retailers also have the obvious benefit of being completely void of any human interaction, so superstitious people don’t even need to leave their house to take advantage of sales or special collections. 

Insurance companies, however, avoid attempts at shifting perception of the day and instead actually hope to capitalize on people’s superstitions as a means to increase sales. When approaching the day, their marketing material tends to allude to Friday the 13th or bad luck in general as a good reason to think about their [insurance] products. Pretty scary if you ask us.

While marketing and advertising is the business of shifting and maintaining perceptions for brands, Friday the 13th shows us how some categories have shifted a perception that they have little control over into a beneficial day for themselves and customers. 

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