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St. Patrick’s Day is approaching. Things are going my way. My Oatly container had just enough milk for today’s coffee. My Apple iPhone battery held on at 3% long enough to finish that email. And I can’t prove it, but it feels like Mario Kart gave me all the red shells when I played against my kids last night. Am I lucky or is it the brand? Maybe both.

Unfortunately, scientists haven’t been able to prove the existence of luck yet. It falls into the category of magical thinking. But research has looked into the impact of lucky charms on our sense of confidence, competence, and ability. And the findings suggest you should keep that rabbit’s foot on your keychain. You should hold on to that lucky brand you use, too.

The Psychology of Lucky Charms

Lysann Damisch, a psychologist at the University of Koln, Germany, studied whether lucky charms and rituals boosted people’s self-efficacy – their belief that they could succeed on a given task. She set up a series of experiments and primed some of her participants with lucky thinking.

For example, after asking people to make a short golf putt, she told half of the group that the ball they were putting with was lucky. In another experiment testing people’s performance on a challenging hand-held game, she said to half that she had her “fingers crossed for you.” In both experiments, the lucky groups did better on the tasks than those poor folks in the non-luck group.

In one final test of luck, Damisch tested the effect of each person’s lucky charm – a talisman they brought in and considered to bring them good luck. Compared to a control group with no such lucky charms on their side, the experimental group was more confident, set higher goals, persevered longer, and performed better at the task.

The lucky charm didn’t give them luck, but it did make them think they could do better. The participants’ narratives shifted. I wondered, “What happens when brands bring you luck?”

The Luck Narrative

Questions call for research. And research leads to insights. In a brief survey designed to answer this question, I discovered that 74% of participants believed in luck or magical thinking, such as knocking on wood, tossing salt over your shoulder, or never opening an umbrella indoors. Of those who believed in it, 33% had a lucky charm, such as a particular breakfast before the big game, a specific pen to take a final, or a unique coffee mug they drank from on the day of the big pitch.

Then I asked those who admitted to having a lucky charm what that lucky charm was. The answers ranged from something as small as Life Saver Mints to a David Yurman ring. But across all of the answers, there was something consistent – a story. The objects, be they Fig Newtons or a small, orange cone, were made significant by a story attached to them.

The Baskin Robbins banana split was shared by a swim team on a whim the night before a big states meet. The team won states that year and two more years following when they re-created that experience. Another participant won more matches when wearing her Pink by Victoria Secret clothing under her sports gear. Someone who wore a shirt that said Lucky produced by Lucky Brand apparel earned a very high grade on a test despite the lack of preparation beforehand.

Lucky charms don’t arrive in a person’s life with that power inherent in them. They are bestowed luck by the owner based on the stories they create.

The Lucky Brand

And what about those branded lucky charms? Can a brand become a lucky charm? And what happens to the brand if they do?

In our study, 57% of people who identified a lucky charm could also remember that charm’s brand. But whether participants recalled the brand or not, the universal insight about lucky charms is that they aren’t really about the item at all. Those lucky charms, branded or otherwise, integrated themselves into the participant’s identity. The consumer was the hero of the story. They benefited. They transformed. They performed better with the charm than without it.

This is what branding is all about. Successful branding isn’t just convincing someone to buy your item. The power of branding is finding ways to become integrated into your consumers’ identity in a healthy, meaningful way. Narrative brands become part of the luck ritual provide consumers access its fortunate effects. When your brand becomes part of their story, they may never turn to another brand again. Because who wants to risk that much bad luck?