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Bake or break: how Channel 4 transformed buildings and people into cake for GBBO

The building was wrapped in a photorealistic cake sheet and topped with some enticing pink icing

To mark the return of the beloved TV show The Great British Bake Off, Channel 4 has mixed up a saccharine marketing campaign with an appealing cherry on top – transforming a building into a cake. The Drum talks to the team behind the campaign to learn if such a stunt is a recipe for disaster...

The far-reaching campaign launched this week and made innovative use of the out-of-home (OOH) medium. The brief showed an intent to turn buildings, people and places into cake using different media and technology, capitalizing on the internet trend of baking lifelike items and surprising people.

Making Bake Off take off

In Glasgow, Channel 4 made a 78ft tall cake out of a building. On street level, a 23ft fork encouraged the public to tuck in. It’s one of the odder OOH installations to grace the city’s Argyle Street.

Alan Moss, marketing lead at Channel 4, detailed how tricky the stunt was, explaining that time was tight and there were a lot of hoops to jump through. “We had to navigate city council and landlord approvals so [we were] working closely with the experts at OMD and Talon to find a site that we could get quick approval on.”

With several sites sourced for the bake, the team had to make a decision. “Before we bought the media, we really wanted to make sure that we were confident it would do the ambition justice, so it was a little chicken and egg in that stage.”

After clocking many hours on Microsoft Teams, they settled on ‘that one’ in Glasgow’s city center (where the organization is setting up a new regional HQ).

The team was adamant that they had to make something “more than an ad and something people genuinely would want to stop and take a look at”. In that respect, it succeeded, and like all bold OOH spots, it accumulated online shares and earned media, helping the first episode almost equal audiences last year when most of us were in lockdown at home.

The building was wrapped in a photorealistic cake sheet and topped with some enticing pink icing to give it an edge over the wraps the site often hosts, with help from OMD UK and Talon Outdoor.

4Creative producer Rory Maclean reveals that the team actually had to bake a really tall cake and photograph it (there’s no word on whether they later ate it). At the blown-up scale, photoshop imperfections would be glaringly obvious. “This saved us a lot of time in retouching and meant we could deliver the massive files needed for such a big site.”

Maclean says: “It was important to find a location for our cake billboard and giant fork that was in a busy area where people would stop and interact with it.”

There have been about two and a half months of work that have gone into the whole campaign, with numerous staggered deadlines dependent on a small team making quick decisions and, more importantly, getting a quick sign-off.

The simple campaign could, and was, applied to “as many mediums as possible,” says Maclean. Which was a blessing, and one of the major challenges in delivering the campaign.

Let them be cake

There was more activity to support the cake building. The team leaned into a lot of stock footage of cake for its visual assets. Baking one huge cake was enough stress.

It worked with animation firm Intro to bring the images to life across numerous media. Sali Horsey and Zoe Nash, creatives who helped deliver the campaign, say the biggest challenge was finding stock footage that could be adapted. On air, it’s had free reign of the Channel 4 network to promo the show. These short films showed UK landmarks as cake.

They said: “We didn’t just want to say that Bake Off makes life sweeter for people, we actually wanted to do it. So instead of just making one 60-second TV ad, we flooded the media channels with cake-based content.”

Channel 4 also partnered with digital audio channels Capital and Heart to help drive the sense of event on launch day nationally. Meanwhile, digital screens used across Leeds, London and Manchester reacted to the weather in real-time in a GBBO manner.

The pair said: “We targeted people in multiple city centers with weather-reactive adverts, which changed from a blue sky with a lemon tart sun and meringue clouds to a grey sky raining colourful hundreds and thousands to sweeten the changeable British weather.” Judging from the gray-sky press pics, the weather did need a little sweetening.

Finally, an AR lens on Snap and Instagram allowed people to turn themselves into cake. That formed the center of the social push, which involves activity on “every major social platform and influencer engagement to target younger audiences,” according to Moss. Horsey and Nash underlined the importance of the AR filters to allow people to “participate” in the GBBO madness in reaction to the prompt ‘What Bake Are You?’. The results have been “sweet but slightly grotesque”.

And the influencer element played into a trend almost custom-made for the show. You’ll have seen videos of things turned into cake. It started off with Dr Alex George of Love Island fame, who made a washing sponge made out of cake. GBBO does share a young audience with ITV’s Love Island, so it does make sense to lean into the stars that made that show.

Looking forward, Maclean is enthused by the simplicity of the campaign and looks forward to how it could evolve for future series. More cake buildings please!

In 2021, Bake Off achieved its biggest ever run on Channel 4, averaging a consolidated audience of 10.6 million viewers per episode and a 40% share of the viewing audience. It was also the second-biggest TV show for young viewers in 2020.

Read more of our many GBBO marketing stories here.

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