On a recent trip to San Francisco, I rang the doorbell and waited to recite the password I had been given. When the non-descript door opened every so slightly, an expectant face peered out.

“Baloney?” I said unsurely, and the door opened wider, beckoning my group and I in to the speakeasy. We felt a thrill as we were ushered through the dark, Prohibition era themed cocktail lounge to a booth in the back corner. Once inside, cell phones and boisterous behavior were forbidden.

Anyone can request a reservation via the speakeasy’s website, but still our visit – with its password, mysterious retro ambience and rules – felt like a clandestine operation, and I delighted in the exclusivity of it all.

It’s easy to see why speakeasies have become tremendously popular in recent years. In a culture driven by chalking up distinctive experiences and nurturing individuality, consumers are increasingly seeking the feelings of mystery, exclusivity and uniqueness. Highlighted as a recent Mintel Trend titled Secret Secret, it explores consumerism as a game and the name of that game is exclusivity: covert or stealth consumption that isn’t supposed to be publicized or available to everyone.

Outside of speakeasies, brands across a range of categories are finding opportunities to play up the feeling of exclusivity that can accompany products, services, deals and content that isn’t available to everyone. For example, consumers seem to enjoy ordering off Chipotle’s secret menu or scoring brag-worthy deals. According to Mintel research, some 25% of Black warehouse club shoppers and 23% of Hispanic warehouse club shoppers said they like the exclusivity of shopping at these stores (Warehouse Clubs – US, 2014), while 27% of consumers who subscribe to video on demand services do so in order to have access to exclusive content available only through that service (Movie Sales and Rentals – US, 2014).

We’ve seen strong buzz around this trend within the dining out and entertainment spaces as brands engage consumers with encouraged investigation and exploration:

  • Forbidden Taste is a pop-up dinner-and-a-show concept in Prague where diners learn of the location and menu the night of the event.
  • Birch Road Cellar is a members-only, bring-your-own-bottle social club in Chicago where patrons must scan their fingerprints to get in the door.
  • For one week, London’s Victoria & Albert museum hosted a mystery art show open only to those who could find it.

There’s also strong momentum behind this trend within the general realm of marketing and advertising:

  •  Greek airline Aegean gave 50 lucky winners the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve up in the clouds, and they were only told where they were going upon arrival.
  • Streaming internet radio provider Pandora rewarded random US users with surprise concerts via FaceTime. Artists like Gavin Rossdale of Bush and violinist Lindsey Stirling performed mini-concerts for viewers who clicked the “thumbs up” button on certain songs.
  • In Brazil, BarraShoppingSul mall used geolocation technology to create an interactive billboard to advertise its new ‘Secrets of Egypt’ exhibit. The billboard invited passers-by to break a “curse” using a mummy that mysteriously appeared on the mobile devices of users who had downloaded the Waze app.

Untapped opportunities exist in sectors like retail and auto:

  • The British bookseller Waterstones placed a hidden reading list in its website’s source code. The book list could only be viewed by visiting the site and pressing CTRL+U (on a PC) or CMD+Alt+U (on a Mac).
  •  Porsche and Dutch agency ACHTUNG created an interactive platform where car owners could trade in their current vehicle for an unknown Porsche. Entitled Blind Trade, the campaign released a new feature of the mystery model every two days over a three week period.

In CPG, an additional cloak of secrecy can take new or limited-edition products to the next level:

  • The Glenlivet Alpha is a single malt Scotch whisky that launched without any tasting notes or cask details. Consumers are encouraged to identify the mysterious whisky through sensory challenges on The Glenlivet website and Facebook page.

It may seem ironic that an element of mystery and excitement can actually create buzz for a brand, but consider the speakeasy: my visit was the result of an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend who had previously had the same furtive cocktail experience. All brands can dream up innovative ways to enter this ‘password-only’ culture; be prepared to hear consumer voices ascend from a hushed whisper to the thunderous excitement of being ‘in the know.’

Mintel’s Consumer Trends Consultant, Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency, and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty, and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.