Some public personalities and brands have managed to be incredibly successful while staying out of the limelight and avoiding the press. Is this a replicable strategy?
Learn from those who have managed to balance illusiveness with intrigue and demand.
Three characteristics that make undercover brands sought-after
Exclusivity - A brand that's available only to a select group can become more desirable or more elite. Sometimes it may be expensive, though much of the time it's the fact that only a small niche group is targeted, which can make a brand more sought after. The alignment of a small clique with a brand can create a buzz with the general public.
Limited Access - Some companies create allure by offering a limited edition, restricting availability to market, or leaking small bits of information. Case in point: a rare first edition Princess Bear Beanie Baby created for The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund sold for $500,000 in 2017.
Reclusiveness - Some brands create demand by deliberately avoiding the press: declining interviews, restricting access, responding with "no comment."
Reclusive brands and personalities that have thrived
Banksy - Banksy is an anonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director whose satirical and distinctive street art is known around the world and whose pieces have fetched well over a million dollars. No one knows when and where Banksy's latest work will pop up; the elusive artist creates clever social media events that send fans on a scavenger hunt to find new works of art. And his identity remains a closely-guarded secret.
Howard Hughes Jr. - In the '40s and '50s, billionaire Howard Hughes was a business mogul with almost total ownership of RKO movie studios, vast real estate holdings, and an influential figure in the aviation industry. While his exploits and lavish lifestyle were world-renowned, the man himself was an enigma and his reclusiveness made him an enduring legend.
Harper Lee - Lee was a mediarecluse, refusing all interviews and speaking requests after To Kill a Mockingbird became a global bestseller in 1960. For 40 years the public clamored for a follow-up to her iconic novel, with no response from Lee. In 2015, with mystery still surrounding the author, Lee's sequel Go Set a Watchman was published, setting a one-day sales record atBarnes & Noble.
Sriracha - David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods and maker of the original Sriracha sauce, does no advertising and takes no interviews. Yet his product has grown into a cult favorite. Tran only recently began giving interviews, and very few at that. He doesn't like talking to the press and won't share information about his business model, operations or market size, saying only "the 'secret' sauce sells itself" by word of mouth.
Tesla - Elon Musk's 2008 Tesla Roadster was the first highway legalserial productionall-electric car to uselithium-ion batterycells. Being the first of its kind and having limited availability made it a status symbol. It wasn't until Musk filed a $100 million IPO that promotion expanded to the broader market.
Club 33 - A private club located in the heart of Disneyland, Club 33 has no official website and Disney does not advertise it. With its $25,000 initiation fee and $10,000 annual fee, there is a 14-year waiting list for new memberships.
To Go Undercover or Not?
When should a brand consider "undercover" as a deliberate strategy?
Startups with no marketing budget may be able to create buzz, word of mouth or intrigue about their brand
If your team has connections or includes influencers, you can try using them to create mystique
A groundbreaking product that is entirely new can be buzzworthy
A product that addresses a need that is in the news could attract attention without formal marketing
When is This a Bad Idea?
When your offer adds only incremental value to something that already exists
If you are not willing to maintain a quiet personal profile
If you are uncomfortable having others speak as your appointed representatives
If you are not both patient and persistent
If CEO presence or key information sharing is a required threshold
Finding Influencers in a Haystack
It can be challenging to find influencers who will prove the brand's value and help create demand.
Prestigious affiliation motivates some consumers to buy, but this strategy won't work for brands not affiliated with people who have an established reputation
Startups may not have the ability or time to build a reputation without press or marketing
If your product is not unique or first on the market, influencers may not be enough
If you don't have access to influencers and/or your audience, this is not the best strategy
Additional Reading on Strategies Deployed by Undercover Brands
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc. helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications. To find out how ICCC can help you and your company build your reputation contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.