Film Theory: The Secret Ingredient of SpongeBob’s Krabby Patty! (SpongeBob SquarePants)
I’m Geraldo Rivera, and you’re about to witness a live television event. A massive, concrete vault has been discovered. Well tonight, for the first time, that vault is going to be open, live! (Squidward): HOLY SHRIMP! (MatPat): Hello, Internet! Welcome to Film Theory, the show that uncovers sea crits [secrets] with all the determination and success of Plankton. (whispering): Aw, shoot, that’s not really a good thing, is it? Spongebob Squarepants as a franchise has been so omnipresent since its debut in 1999 that I think most of us assume that it would never go away. Which is part of the reason why the loss of Stephen Hillenburg, its creator, at age 57 by ALS was so tragic. It’s not exaggerating in the slightest to say that he gave us some of the most iconic characters, most quotable lines, and memorable moments of recent history. He is, without question, one of the most influential people in children’s programming and current internet culture. It’s probably for all those reasons that one of the most requested Film Theory topics of last year has been from Spongebob; specifically the question that all us burger lovers, sponge lovers, and spongy-burger lovers wanna know– what is the Krabby Patty’s secret formula? It’s a question that’s persisted for so long that it feels like it should be sacrilegious to try and answer it. But…if there’s one thing that Film Theory stands for, it’s treating nothing as sacred. So today, Spongebob is on the menu, and I consider it my honor to see if we can find out the secret formula that tickles the taste buds of our imagination, or if this secret will remain trapped in Bikini Bottom forever. The biggest problem with trying to figure out the Krabby Patty’s secret formula is that anytime it comes up in the show, we run into some suspicious problems. These problems make it hard to pinpoint just what the secret formula actually is. We know for a fact that the secret formula for a Krabby Patty is referring to the patty itself, and not what’s actually on the burger, because we already know the full list of what goes on these things… …or, do we? The Krusty Krab is surprisingly fast and loose with this information since as early as season 1, episode 6– the episode “Pickles”– Spongebob reveals all the ingredients to a Krabby Patty with the works: (Spongebob): I can’t put a patty on a bun with lettuce, cheese, onions, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, pickles and top bun together in that order! (MatPat): From the mouth of the chef himself. But then the story changes, because two seasons later we hear a different recipe from the Krusty Krab commercial shown in “As Seen On TV”–season 3, episode 7. (Mr. Krabs): We start with a fresh patty, grilled and juicy. (Mr. Krabs): Add some crisp undersea veggies and cheese, topped off with secret sauce and some buns. (Mr. Krabs): Voilà, a Krabby Patty! (MatPat): It’s pretty significantly different. This one is missing mustard, tomatoes and onions, which are not underseas veggies. I’ll give him cucumbers since, I guess, those could be sea cucumbers. And this one has secret sauce, which Spongebob didn’t list at all, despite him describing a Krabby Patty “with the works”– literally everything on it. (TV Host): Can you make me one with everything? (MatPat): Oh, and uh, by the way. At no point is it said in the show that you need a pinch of Poseidon powder, like some recent rumors circulating the Internet have been saying–that was a mistake on the fan wiki and it has actually no grounding in the show itself. That’s why you gotta be careful when trusting non-primary sources. Though, I will say “Poseidon powder” is slang for cocaine. And if cocaine were indeed the secret ingredient of these patties, it would result in the addictive power and taste of love that the Krabby Patty often possesses. So, maybe it wasn’t that far off–but like I said, no actual evidence of it in the show. Because, if there was evidence of it in the show, you know I would be all over that like Squidward on a vault full of Krabby Patties. Telling you your favorite cartoon characters are addicted to cocaine is, like, my favorite pastime. So, what is really going on here? Well, for the answer maybe we can turn to the real recipe. Luckily, in “Krabby Road”–season 6, episode 1–Plankton dupes Spongebob into joining his band which gives him a chance to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula, and for the first and, to my knowledge, only time, we actually get a glimpse of it right before Plankton is caught. And what we see is… (record scratch) …gibberish? What’s the deal? This is the official Krabby Patty secret formula kept in the restaurant, so why is just a bunch of gobbledygook? Well, two different possibilities exist: Possibility 1: It’s the real formula, but it’s written down using some kind of coded cypher. And if Plankton had the right decryption key, he could translate that garbled gibberish into the real thing. Possibility 2: This ingredients list isn’t real. Mr Krabs is lying about the recipe. And if you try to break apart this formula, this starts to seem more and more likely. One of the most common ways to break a simple cypher is with frequency analysis, the idea being that if you have a long enough string of text, you can match certain letters in the cypher to certain letters based on their frequency. For example, a letter that appears a lot of times in the cypher is more likely to be a vowel like “e” or “a” or consonant like “s” or “t”. But when we run Spongebob’s Krabby Patty formula through a frequency analysis tool, we find these results: the most common letters are “h” and “g” followed by “s”, “f” and “d”. The frequency analysis tool doesn’t suggest any possible solutions to the cypher. g-d-s-g-e-h-s-g is pretty hard to map onto anything when it has so many repeating letters, let alone a word that would actually show up in an ingedients list. Plugging that into a cryptogram solver, the only words that could possibly translate into these letters are “kickback”, “gangling”, “tastiest” and “elsewise”. None of these are Krabby Patty ingredients; you can’t have 4 cups of “elsewise”. “Tastiest” looks promising, but if you try to use that cypher to solve the rest of the recipe you just get even more gibberish, and none of the other words work out. But the letters and their frequency could still provide another hint. You see, they’re all letters from the middle part of the keyboard and the two most common letters are “h” and “g” specifically, which are in the absolute dead center of the keyboard. What would fit perfectly with this arrangement of letters as if someone like Mr. Krabs just wanted Spongebob to think that this was the secret recipe, so he just mashed on the keyboard to produce these non-words– and here’s where Mr. Krabs’ real secret formula starts to come out. It’s all a ruse. There is no secret formula. It’s why the ingredients list for the Krabby Patty seems so variable throughout the series both with and without the special sauce why the official patty recipe is a bunch of keyboard mashing. It’s here that we learn a very important lesson about Spongebob as well as our own world: it’s not about the food, it’s about the business. Mr. Krabs is a lot of things, and one thing he is not is an expert chef. But what he is, is an expert businessman. The secret to the Krusty Krab success isn’t his amazing recipe, but his amazing marketing ability. He creates the mystery around his Patty as a one-of-a-kind burger. But lets face it, this is a hamburger… Krabby burger… whatever, it’s not unique. The secret formula is all just a big marketing ploy. Doesn’t seem likely? Just look at examples in the real world. Technically, there is nothing about a McDonalds burger you can’t replicate at home, or at another restaurant. Comparing the Big Mac to the Big King, these things are esentially the same. Most of the value from McDonalds lies in the brand that people trust. To produce 100,000 burgers per day at over 30,000 locations around the globe, all making it possible to go to almost any city in the world, see those Golden Arches and say: “Yeah, I know what kind of experience I’m gonna have there. “I don’t know if I’ll like anything else around here, so I might as well get the good old reliable Big Mac “instead of taking a chance at that Mom and Pop hoagie stand.” McDonalds’ brand is reliability, the Krusty Krab’s brand is uniqueness. It’s the reason that McDonalds spends $2 billion a year on advertising. You could make the best food in the world, but if no one knows about it you’re gonna go out of business pretty quickly. But if you’re a savvy businessman like Mr. Krabs, or $137 billion company like McDonalds, creating awareness for your brand is a lot more important than serving up patties that are objectively the best tasting. The Krabby Patty is the ultimate guerrilla marketing tactic: you start a rumor about your own franchise that makes it sound vague and mysterious, (Spongebob): Love it! Kind of vague and mysterious. (MatPat): and then, rather than spend money on marketing you let word of mouth do the work for you and you get people talking about your product without having to spend a dime. (customers all talking in agreement)
(Customer): Well, that sounds very interesting! (MatPat): Don’t think Mr. Krabs’ tactic worked? Spongebob debuted in the 1990’s and people are still talking about the Krabby Patty secret formula, trying to uncover the elusive bit of knowledge in a fictional show, a piece of knowledge that doesn’t really exist! For a real world example, consider the nameless juice brand. A brand of lemonade that refuses to actually put a brand name on itself and instead is just known for its mysterious flavor. The actual secret behind the fruity drink is that it contains some vegetable juice as well, which makes it about as unique as V8–so basically not at all. That said, the mystery around that brand has driven massive underground word of mouth. Heck, even McDonalds’ own secret sauce is just mayonnaise, pickles, mustard and a few spices. But the fact that they call it “secret” makes it seem like it’s more exclusive, and therefore more in demand, than it really is. So both in real life and in 2000’s cartoons, it’s not about having the Krabby Patty secret formula, it’s just about having something you call a secret formula. And as a bonus in Spongebob, it distracts Mr. Krabs’ main competitor by sending Plankton on a wild goose chase for a formula that he’s never actually gonna be able to find. The only thing that throws a monkey wrench into Mr. Krabs’ plans, though, are his employees. Hence, he hires someone like Squidward, who doesn’t really care about the secret, and Spongebob. Spongebob is honest to a fault, a real stand-up sponge, and he doesn’t take kindly to things like fraud and deception. So if Spongebob knew about the Krabby Patty’s lack of a secret formula, he might let that slip or feel guilty about implicitly lying to everyone everytime he served up a burger. And so Mr. Krabs’ solution? Slap his claws onto the keyboard for a minute and give Spongebob a fake formula. Make him think it’s real, and don’t worry if it ends up getting stolen. It sounds outlandish, or just a cop-out to say that there’s no real formula and that there’s nothing secret to the Krabby Patty that makes it magically delicious. I mean, we all remember how Squidward completely lost his mind the first time he sunk his teeth into a Krabby Patty in just one bite. (Squidward): I love Krabby Patties! (MatPat): Surely, there must be something at work here, and there is. It’s just marketing, once again. According to Aaron Garvey, an assistant professor of marketing at the
UK Gatton College of Business and Economics, the way that people feel about a product is heavily linked to psychology and their brand association with that product. In his research, he found, quote: “You could take the exact same product that you were thinking about taking to market, “and you could put it in front of consumers, “and you could change what price you were going to launch it at, “and you could change what brand it was. “And they would have dramatically different impressions of that product. “And they would tell you incredibly different things about the product. “That they thought it was made of different materials, that they thought it weighed more, or it weighed less.” [END QUOTE] So if Mr. Krabs says that the Krabby Patty’s secret formula is what makes it so delicious, he’s actually not lying. If he has created a brand association, created what is essentially a legendary burger, people will experience it differently. If what people believe about a product’s weight or materials is dependent on the brand they believe it is, that effect is going to be just as strong, if not stronger, when it comes to totally subjective qualities, like how good a burger tastes. The Krabby Patty secret formula might have started as a lie, but now the real secret ingredient is an ingredient that everyone thinks is there, but one that doesn’t truly exist. But, hey…! Have you ever wanted to be a grillmaster like Spongebob, or a rich, successful businessman like Mr. Krabs? Well, whatever your career goals, I bet you’re ready for Skillshare, our sponsor for today. (Spongebob): I’m ready! I’m ready! (MatPat): Skillshare is where actual, real life experts can teach you everything you need to know to fry up the best burgers in all of Bikini Bottom, or just make a fortune by managing a business that isn’t a Chum Bucket. I’ve talked plenty about Skillshare in the past about how they’re a learning community where you can learn everything from production skills to YouTube strategies from some of the top people in their fields. But, one thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that they also have culinary classes. Personally, I suck in the kitchen–like really, really bad. But I am getting better, and I’m learning from Skillshare. One thing that I have always been nervous about has been cutting and chopping. But thanks to the 12 minute video, “Knife Skills: A Mini Class to Chop Like a Chef”, I am…well…I-I’m not a pro, but I’m slightly less of a hole. And mind you, that has nothing to do with the class; the class is great, it’s more to do with me. I also love ice cream and there’s a class dedicated to “How to Make Gelato…”. Even more general classes like,
“DIY Food Photography: Capturing Food in Your Kitchen”
can bring out your inner hipster! And then once you’ve learned how to take pictures of your food instead of, you know, eating said food, you could then monetize your photography chops with a class specifically on becoming an Instagram influencer. Yes! There are classes for you to take pictures of your food and then other classes for you to learn how to monetize the pictures of said food. So why wait? Start raking in more than just sand dollars, click on the link in the description below, which I am also showing here on screen in case you’re that person who wants the unique pleasure of typing in a long string of text into your URL bar. Watch out ladies, this person knows how to spend a Friday night! And check out their premium membership, which gives you unlimited access to all of their 25,000+ courses. It’s an investment in yourself for less than $10 a month. And the first 1000 of you watching to use the link in the description will get 2 months absolutely free. So, go! Do it! Start the year off right by doing yourself a favor. Link is in the description, and while you’re busy Krabby Patty-ing it up, I’ll still be here working on those knife skills. Oh-oh, good Lord. Those blades are so big…yaaah!