The Secret Is Out There: Coca Cola Creator Doc Pemberton Stars in “Secret Formula” Campaign

June 4, 2010 · By Michael Andersen in Game Launch, News, Rumors 


The Coca Cola Company has enlisted the aid of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland to create an integrated marketing campaign exploring the history and mythology behind Doctor John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca Cola. The Secret Formula campaign launched with the above video bears many of the trappings of an alternate reality game, with links leading to artifacts across the web, with the promise of expansion out into the real world in the near future. And while it is relatively easy to draw parallels between this campaign and Wieden+Kennedy’s previous Go Forth campaign for Levi’s, on first impression it appears as though Secret Formula will be a more passive experience.

According to the campaign’s The Secret Is Out There video, someone is trying to steal Coca Cola’s secret formula: and based on past experience, Pepsi can be ruled out as the culprit. In order to figure out who is after the formula, players will have to learn more about the two people who know the formula as well as the drink’s inventor, Doctor Pemberton, who has recently discovered twitter, although it seems as though the good doctor had some trouble adjusting to the application at first.

Many of the links embedded in the video lead to assorted viral marketing applications otherwise unrelated to the campaign. However, two links lead to “restricted” pages revealing Dr. Pemberton’s files and a live feed of Coke’s sealed vault as it is visited by the ghostly apparition of Dr. Pemberton, among other humorous guests. For more information, be on the lookout for the game’s distinctive keyhole logo, the red silhouette of a Coke bottle with a keyhole carved out the middle. According to Contagious Magazine, Coke has announced that the keyhole logo will roll out both online and off-line at “live music venues, BET and MTV award shows and tweeny eateries . . . [as well as] youth-oriented sites and social media channels.”

As with Levi’s Go Forth campaign, Secret Formula is exploring the brand’s rich history through an interactive mystery at the crossroads of the real world and its virtual counterpart. With Go Forth, the fictitious Grayson Ozias IV set forth a clear call to action: discovering his buried treasure by solving a series of riddles.  With Secret Formula, the call to action from the very real (and very deceased) John Pemberton seems less clear. While a few notes scrawled into the margins of Pemberton’s journal have not been transcribed yet, the main goal at the moment is merely to find instances of the keyhole logo and see where they lead, hoping the content relates to the overarching story.

While the campaign is somewhat lacking in cohesiveness, it makes up for that by drawing on Wieden+Kennedy’s impeccable sense of comedic timing that made Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like such a hit. Pemberton’s failed attempts to use the “Twitter box” are equal parts hilarious and inspired, and the live feed of Coke’s vault is an exercise in the absurd as the seemingly secure vault is visited by everything from a ninja to a robot. Secret Formula may not offer many opportunities to interact with the developing story, but it does promise to provide an engaging look into the history and mythology of the drink that has fueled more ARGNet articles than I would care to remember.

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One Response to “The Secret Is Out There: Coca Cola Creator Doc Pemberton Stars in “Secret Formula” Campaign”

  1. Coupons for Savings | Now that's a bargain! on November 3rd, 2011 8:57 pm

    […] a world without Coca Cola, when drugstore owner Asa Candler bought the formula for Coke from Doc Pemberton, nobody had even heard of the refreshing elixir. Candler, who was trying to sell the syrup for Coca […]

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