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Secret sauce: Keep the mystery of your brand alive

Secret sauce: Keep the mystery of your brand alive

At least the vault that holds the secret formula is now in public view. Precious de Leon believes local brands should look at keeping the right kind of secrets too.

December 13, 2011 2:01 by

“Secret’s in the sauce.”

It’s one of the most memorable lines in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes (a must-see if you haven’t seen it yet). While the character may have used the line for a somewhat more sinister connotation, the quote definitely applies to a legacy of great food mysteries in our global fastfood history.

Of course each brand has its own secret ingredient or formula. But there have been brands that have cashed in on the hype of ‘keeping the mystery alive’.

And by the looks of it, Coca-Cola is reviving the story of its mystery formula. Marking its 125th anniversary, the company is moving “The Vault of the Secret Formula” from its 86-year home in SunTrust (formerly Trust Company Bank) to its permanent home on public display at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

If you thought you’d figure out just what was recipe was, you’d be disappointed because the formula would still be inside the vault. It’s just now you can choose to visit the vault. Its contents would still be left to your imagination.

After Dr. John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, the formula was kept a close secret, only shared with a small group and not written down. In 1891, Asa Candler became the sole proprietor of Coca-Cola after purchasing the rights to the business. Then, in 1919, Ernest Woodruff and a group of investors purchased the Company from Candler and his family.

To finance the purchase Woodruff arranged a loan and as collateral he provided documentation of the formula by asking Candler’s son to commit the formula to paper. This was placed in a vault in the Guaranty Bank in New York until the loan was repaid in 1925.

At that point, Woodruff reclaimed the secret formula and returned it to Atlanta and placed it in the Trust Company Bank, now SunTrust, where it remained until its recent move to the World of Coca-Cola.

The story of how the formula came to its 8-decade rest in a bank is a great one. It makes for an interesting story that can be easily shareable online. It’s a marketing plot that is pretty much timeless. And looks like Coca-Cola is reviving it a bit this winter.

But Coca-Cola doesn’t have monopoly on the ‘mystery marketing’. KFC, for example, has kept the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices pretty much on the down-low, as the younguns call it.

There have been instances where websites post a list of herbs and spaces that they claim is the original KFC recipe. But so far this have been widely acknowledged as fake without KFC or any authorities really having confirmed or deny the authenticity of these lists.

May be we really don’t want to know what the real secret formula or recipe actually is? Maybe we want keep the magical idea of fairies and fairytale creatures (i.e. trolls?) creating our products.

Remember this widely famous 2006 Coca-Cola ad? (okay, so it doesn’t show that gnomes and elves are making the beverage but you get the picture)

And who knows, maybe this mystery marketing angle may just be the boost that flagging brands like The Body Shop needs to reinvent itself—going back to the most basic elements of people’s childish fancies.

Perhaps even brands in the Middle East could take a page from this kind of promotion. Legacy brands like Vimto and even Patchi could do well with this. Even new products could use it, though. As I recall WildPeeta has a secret wild sauce that could be a good starting point.

The region, after all, is known to produce some of history’s most prolific storytellers, so why not incorporate that into the brand building? Pepper it with a bit of mystery for a different taste.

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