From the space opera that was Heinz’s extraterrestrial ketchup, we turn to more earthbound matters and consider the condiment giant’s marketing magic. While considerably less sci-fi, this story is no less fun, as a recent deep dive into the history, mystery, and numerology of the brand’s fabled “57 varieties” shows!
That pleasingly odd number is supposedly the count of the different types of pickles, relishes, ketchups, etc. Heinz offers. It must have some basis in fact, right? Otherwise, why would such a big company be so willing to keep it central to their identity since the slogan’s invention in 1896? CNN Business sleuth Nathaniel Meyersohn uncovers Heinz’s open secret: That founder H.J. Heinz made it all up.
Theories abound as to why the Pittsburgh ketchup magnate did this: He’d seen an ad for 21 different kinds of shoes that made the brand stick in his mind; his lucky number was five and his wife’s, seven; seven had an “alluring” and “mystical” significance, as he wrote in his autobiography. What started as a savvy instinct quickly became part of the zeitgeist. And Heinz bought into their own myth.
“When Joe DiMaggio’s record hit streak ended at 56 games in 1941, the Yankees star reportedly told a teammate that he missed out on $10,000 promised to him by Heinz if he matched its label. […]
Then there’s the Heinz 57 sauce for steak, chicken and pork, which was memorialized by Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’: ‘I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes.’
Noel Geoffrey, who led the Heinz ketchup division from 2008 to 2011, said 57 was ‘like a good luck charm; at the company. The telephone number for the main switchboard at its previous headquarters – the Heinz 57 Center – was, of course, 57. In 2001, the company paid the Pittsburgh Steelers $57 million over 20 years for naming rights to the stadium.”
Like Baskin-Robbins’ “31 flavours” and Kellogg’s “2 scoops” of Raisin Bran, Heinz invented their own mythology, and it’s worked for them. And works still: Even though they have a rotating roster of products that emphatically don’t number 57, the slogan is still prominent on their labels. I don’t think DFC will start numbering our sauces, but Heinz’s history has opened my eyes to what a little dollop of imagination can do for a brand!