Numbers, Colors, and Words – Oh, My!

Updated: Jul 8

How Certain Choices Resonate Differently Among Cultures

As much as cultural competency can increase your revenue, not being culturally aware can be an expense to an organization for several reasons. We have seen several multicultural faux pas that have cost companies thousands of dollars and a hit to their reputation. Colors, numbers, and word choices can all play a powerful impact on a company’s marketing campaign.


Here are a few examples.

Why numbers matter?

Did you know that eight is a lucky number in China as it sounds like wealth when spoken in Chinese? Four is an unlucky number as it sounds like death when spoken in Chinese. The Beijing Olympics began on 8/8/08 at 8:08 pm. I would say that is a lucky number. ☺


Think about the Lunar New Year. This year, the holiday was celebrated February 1 – 15, 2022 – the Year of the Tiger. What if you used the number eight creatively during this holiday? Special promotions – $8 coupons, offer loyalty points of 888, etc...


Think about how you can recognize holidays and other significant cultural themes around the world in an effective marketing campaign.

Why do colors matter?

When a major airline initiated a new first-class service out of Hong Kong, the company gave white carnations to personnel and passengers. Unfortunately, in that part of the world, white flowers symbolize death and misfortune – certainly not the ideas the airline wished to emphasize on any of its flights. Imagine how U.S. citizens might react to an inaugural flight filled with symbols of black cats and the number 13! The airline quickly switched to red carnations, which carry much more positive connotations in Hong Kong and the surrounding region.


In many Asian cultures, red is a sign of prosperity and white is denoted in funerals. It’s for this reason that Indian and Chinese wedding dresses are often red and widows in India often wear white.

Why do words matter?

When I started my company in August 2020, I made sure that “Seva” did not offend any culture. It is a Sanskrit word that means the “Act of Selfless Service.” It is a word that resonates well in many cultures.


One of my favorite examples is a tale told in thousands of business textbooks: the Chevy Nova. This car sold poorly in Spanish speaking countries because its name translated as “doesn’t go.” However, anyone who knows Spanish would know that “Nova” and “No Va” mean different things. Anyone who knows Spanish would know that Spanish speakers would not use “no va” to describe a car that doesn’t work, they’d say “no marcha” or “no funciona.” This myth might have some truth, but I think you get the point that word choices matter.


Cultivating Your Understanding:

What is your favorite best practice that you have seen or demonstrated with multicultural marketing? What multicultural marketing faux pas stands out to you most?


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