-- Psst. Wanna get in on the secret about secret formulas? Consumers go ga-ga for them.
The brand-brandishing companies behind these secrets all know this. But perhaps none better than Coca-Cola, which on Thursday was all over Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to announce that it was physically moving its secret formula from a SunTrust Bank vault in Atlanta to a vault in a new exhibit at Coke's World of Coca-Cola tourist attraction in downtown Atlanta.
"The whole point of a trade secret is that you know something that no one else does," says Ted Ryan, archivist at Coca-Cola.
Corporate America is rich in secret-formula and secret-recipe lore. Beyond Coke, there's KFC's Original Recipe formula, McDonald's Big Mac secret sauce recipe and, of course, the super-duper secret behind Google's algorithm.
But by shipping out a photo of CEO Muhtar Kent depositing Coke's 125-year-old secret formula into a new vault, Coke isn't trying to sell you a Coke. Rather, says PR consultant Katie Delahaye Paine, it's enlisting you as a PR agent.
"Coke now measures its success by customer expressions," says Paine. "They value this in terms of something that gets customers excited on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr."
Consumers are enamored of secrets. Coke is simply playing on our emotions, says consumer psychologist Renee White Fraser. "The idea of it being in a vault makes it seem more powerful than it really is," she says.
Some other companies that dangle secrets:
•KFC. The chicken kingpin considers the 11 herbs and spices in its Original Recipe fried chicken to be "one of the world's most valuable trade secrets," says spokesman Rick Maynard. It's kept in a safe that's inside a vault at company headquarters.
It requires four people to get into the safe and get the recipe, he says.
•McDonald's. The secret recipe for the "special sauce" on its Big Macs "is under lock and key in the Golden Archives in an undisclosed location" in the Western suburbs of Chicago, says McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud.
•Bush's Baked Beans. The brand that markets its family recipe for baked beans as top secret in its TV spots — known only by a top Bush Bros. executive and a pet dog — really does keep its recipe secret, says company attorney Bill Seale. And just who knows that secret?
His answer, of course: "I can't tell you."