Who Owns the Spicy Sauce?

Did you know that sriracha is a style of hot sauce, not a brand of sauce? Just like ketchup, sriracha can be manufactured by anyone. However, in the U.S. at least, when someone says sriracha (or rooster sauce for that matter), they’re talking about Huy Fong Food’s spicy elixir with the iconic green cap and rooster logo.

The story of rooster sauce’s rise to prominence is an unusual one, in that they spend next-to-nothing on advertising and marketing. This is not normally something that we, as a food marketing agency, would call attention to, but there are things to learn from Huy Fong Food’s sriracha, no matter how much of an outlier it is.

Take a look at their web presence. From a marketing and communications perspective, it’s in such a sad state that they appear to wear their “Revised: May 10, 2004” update notice as a badge of honor. That’s right, it’s been more than nine years since they’ve touched their website.

What has rooster sauce done right? Well, their product is good. People try it and they like it, and Huy Fong Food’s sriracha’s rise in prominence is due in some part to quality. More importantly, and in terms of brand sentiment, their product connects with consumers. A lot of competing products are high quality, but not all of them connect with consumers.

Looking for a Facebook page for the brand? You won’t find an official one, but you will find numerous unofficial fan pages filled with people extolling, without solicitation, the sauce’s virtues. Want rooster sauce flavored popcorn, posters, or pun-based boxer shorts? Those are available too, but also created exclusively by the fans, for the fans. In rooster sauce’s case, the consumer has become the de facto exclusive marketer and advertiser.

Is Huy Fong Food Inc. positioning itself optimally and seizing upon its popularity? Probably not (though in some cases, staying out of the way of consumer advocacy is the best strategy, though we’re confident, of course, that the sky’s the limit were they to partner with food, beverage, and ingredient industry professionals like MarketPlace [cough cough] to work on brand strategy).

So what can we take away from Huy Fong Food and their odd marketing (or lack thereof)? For starters, if you have a product that truly connects with people, marketing said product will be infinitely easier. Social media and branding can help a company tremendously, but it cannot save a product people don’t connect with.

Additionally, while Huy Fong Food arguably leaves a lot of brand control on the table, if you have a base of passionate brand advocates, you should let consumer preference and advocacy inform your brand strategy rather than trying to wrest control of your strategy and your voice from the marketplace.

The cliche about social media marketing being a two-way street is absolutely true. In rooster sauce’s case, not only are fans driving the conversation, they created the car to drive. For obvious reasons this is far from ideal for the vast majority of brands. Figuring out where your brand should land on the spectrum is complex, but that level of brand strategy and marketing is what MarketPlace lives for, and we’d love to to talk if you’re wondering how you should position your brand in the marketplace.