Coca-Cola Harnesses the Marketing Power of Secrets

On its February 11 show, This American Life dug up a recipe from 1979 newspaper article that claimed to be the secret formula for Coca-Cola. Coke, of course, denies the claims. From Time:

“It has been quite a day,” Kerry Tressler, a company spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday afternoon. First came the stories about the radio program cracking the drink’s code. Then came the stories about the wave of stories about cracking that code. Tressler said several journalists approached her assuming that the formula had been revealed, and prodded her to capitulate. But she had her red-and-white shield drawn and this line at the ready: “Our formulation is our company’s most valued trade secret, and we will not be coming forward with that formula.”

Of course, the folks at This American Life already knew that something was off. They used the recipe they discovered and conducted a series of taste tests. One woman said “it tastes like weird soda trying to be Coke,” while another compared it to R.C. Cola (definitely not the real thing). Phil Mooney, Coke’s resident archivist since 1977, was equally dismissive: “It’s sweeter and flatter than Coca-Cola. It doesn’t have what we call the bite and the burn that Coca-Cola has.”

Mooney suggests that there’s a psychological element to Coke’s success—one rooted in 125 years of advertising, marketing and childhood memories. With that in mind, perhaps it’s best if we don’t know the recipe. Perhaps it’s secrecy—not specific measures of lemon oil—that makes it go down so easy.

Exactly. Remember that movie “The Secret”? It was impossible to know what the movie was about before you watched it, and, regardless of its actual quality, the movie created incredible marketing hype. In fact, many people who had seen it wouldn’t tell you what it was about, because they’d bought into its “secret.” Coke’s exposed secret (or not) is creating similar hype around the drink.

Coke’s recipe, codenamed “Merchandise 7X,” used to be kept in a bank vault. The fact that nobody can reproduce Coke’s flavor is a big part of what makes Coca-Cola a billion dollar company. Heck, it might even be a good marketing move for the company to “reveal” its recipe every 25 years or so, get people interested again.

Here’s the secret recipe, in case you want to go there:

Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity)
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more for color

The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.