In marketing, secrets are released upon three dimensions: the tangible, the intangible, and the temporal. The tangible elements of the product refer to all things that can be touched and quantified: its color, size, and specifications. The intangible elements cannot be touched and are difficult to quantify. In the case of Harry Potter, its publisher Bloomsbury kept the plot and title of the forthcoming books secret. Author J. K. Rowling refused interviews and printers were sworn to secrecy. The temporal dimension designates the timeframe leading up to the product-release date. As a marketer, you can decide to deny or allow availability on any of these three dimensions depending on your product, target market, and competition.
How To Story-Tell A Secret
Being strategic about your storytelling will maximize the impact of your secret in-market: Communicate the secrecy of the process for making your product. Release clues about this process, without ever revealing it all. Wrap the secret in a story, how it all started, how it is tied to a romantic passion, or to historical events. For example, leather goods manufacturer Hermès originally used brown for its label color. But when the Nazis occupied Paris during World War II, Emile-Maurice Hermès couldn’t procure any dye at all, let alone brown. He adopted orange, as it was the only dye available. Today, the color is referred to as “orange Hermès.”
During a public outing in 1956, Grace Kelly tried to hide her baby bump from the paparazzi. The picture, which made it around the world, shows her carrying a small strapped bag from Hermès in front of her waist. Twenty years later, the brand officially named the famous bag “Kelly.” To this day, the product description still refers to the mythical event “Are you expecting something and don’t want to divulge the news? This bag is made to hide your little bump with real elegance.”
How Mystery And Intrigue Drives Desire
Fewer facts and more intrigue keep us engaged and challenge us to discover a solution. To implement mystery in marketing, hide certain elements of the product and let consumers discover those on their own. Keep in mind that mystery is most impactful when it triggers interaction with the brand, rather than the mere discovery of facts. Tease consumers by revealing sound bites and visuals of your upcoming product scarcely. A teaser campaign attracts and retains attention by slowly nurturing the curiosity of your audience. Ideally, you want to lead people to speculate on what will happen next. The character of Don Draper in Mad Men exemplifies mystery. In each episode, viewers would learn a little bit more about Don Draper’s conflicted personality and secretive past. A good cliffhanger, the show kept fans tuning in week after week with unpredictable and often disturbing revelations. In advertising, you likely remember Dos Equis’ most interesting man in the world. In commercials that spread over a decade, Dos Equis slowly released information about the man: Mosquitos don’t bite him out of respect. He lives vicariously through himself. His two cents is worth $37 and change. . . . People would scavenge the internet to learn more about him, growing a positive association between the man and the brand. The impact on sales is obvious: while the overall U.S. beer market has been declining for years, Dos Equis was up 116.6 percent between 2008 and 2013.
How Myth Materializes As Brand Success
In the literal sense of the word, a myth is a story about heroes or supernatural beings. Mythical secrets have high marketing value in building a brand and charging a premium for your product. Mythical secrets are often more mythical than secret, whereby a simple Google search would reveal the secret. Take acclaimed French chef Joël Robuchon, who built his international reputation on his “Purée” (mashed potatoes). Often touted as a secret, the recipe is actually widely available online and even demonstrated by Robuchon himself in a video. Bloomsbury, the publishers of the Harry Potter series coined the phrase “denial marketing.” The more people wanted to know details about the next book, the less information Bloomsbury would give out. Ahead of each publication, Bloomsbury would release little nuggets of information, keeping even the title confidential until hours before the book hit the shelves.
When consumers want a product that is not immediately available, they want it more. Tell them it is a secret and they’ll want it even more. As Dr. Robert Cialdini notes in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the power of secrecy lays in the scarcity principle. That is, things seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited. Once consumers finally access their desires, the secrecy involved with the product increases their attachment to what they just purchased. Secrets also have a unifying effect in social groups, as we become part of a group responsible for keeping the secret. For example, early readers of the Harry Potter novel wouldn’t share the plots with others, encouraging potential readers to buy the novel while increasing their own attachment to the franchise.
You will find many more case studies and tips in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.
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