You watch it. Your gran watches it. Even the Queen (apparently) watches it. But what’s the secret to The Great British Bake Off’s universal appeal?
The final of the last series of The Great British Bake Off was watched by over 12 million viewers. It came second only to England’s football World Cup match with Uruguay – not bad for a show about making cakes.
But is it just about making cakes? We took a look at what qualities have helped #BakeOff rise to the top – and what its success can tell us about engaging an audience.
Bake Off makes people feel good. The contestants are mostly relatable, likeable human beings. The action takes place in a giant tent like we’re all spectators at some twee county fair. The judges are a twinkly-eyed thumb and someone’s grandma.
Most importantly, the contestants are treated well. It’s a show that seems to celebrate the best – rather than bring out the worst – in people. The Independent summed it up nicely:
This is “nice television”, where the hosts are kind and the contestants, who are varied and interesting, are treated kindly and with respect by the producers.
Never has this cult of personality been more apparent than in the current season. Nadiya Hussain’s dynamic facial expressions and witty ripostes have taken Twitter by storm, inspiring a league of adoring fans and even a dedicated Tumblr account.
Her humour has taken presenter Mel aback at times…
… but she recovered well.
Of Bake Off’s success, chief executive Richard McKerrow said:
Bakers are really good people. The very act of what they do is to make something for lots of other people. […] You hadn’t seen these people on TV before. They’re not cast for loud, brash personalities; they’re regular people.
When we’re trying to market our products and ideas it can feel like only the most brash, in-your-face (even offensive) voices get heard.
It’s nice to have proof that kindness and authenticity can still have such a powerful appeal.
The smutty, Carry On… style humour of Bake Off isn’t for everyone, but few are immune to the impish charm of presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.
One of the best parts of the show is watching them cavort around the tent each week, annoying the contestants and the judges alike.
Both could have stepped straight from the pages of a Joanna Trollope novel with their wholesome good sense, good humour. They’re both middle England, but with a naughty twist.
– Caroline Frost, Huffington Post
It turns out that the next best thing to eating the cake yourself is watching other people eat cake while providing a cheeky commentary.
And Mel and Sue really like eating cake.
Rather than neutralise the show’s oddness for mass appeal, the producers have taken the decision to play it up as much as possible. The Britishness is exaggerated with the cutesy decor of the tent. The drama of the judging scenes is hammed up, but with the tongue firmly in the cheek.
Mix that up with the odd ‘soggy bottom’ innuendo (and who can forget Season 2’s pendulous squirrel testicles??) and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Warning: contains nuts
The final result is a show that has a clear aesthetic and identity. One that’s earned The Great British Bake Off over 12 million fans.
The message is clear – a spoonful of personality will take you a long way.
On paper, the appeal of The Great British Bake Off is a mystery. On the scale of boring, watching bread bake is second only to watching paint dry. Even presenter Mel didn’t think it would be a hit at first.
Some think that it’s the simplicity of the format that makes it so compelling. Chris Clarke, from advertising site Campaign, suggests that:
It’s down to its distillation of the massive complexity of human experience and identity into a few very simple ideas. People like simple things.
Bake Off validates the tiny dramas of everyday life and makes the mundane extraordinary. It takes baking – a pastime often dismissed as girly and affectatious – and turns it into a master sport.
Most importantly, it invites the viewer to become a part of the story. Because the contestants are nice people, we feel their highs and lows acutely.
In her recent interview with the Radio Times, Berry admitted:
My aim is not to get too complicated. The simpler it is, the better, so that viewers can get the hang of it too.
Through tips and recipes, the elusive Black Forest gateau cream horn is made accessible for us at home. Bake Off makes us feel like we too could construct a tiny working well out of nothing but dark chocolate and sheer willpower.
Bake Off manages to make baking seem extraordinary, yet achievable. It’s compelling, without exploiting its contestants or patronising its viewers. And it’s funny, because it’s genuine.
And that is what keeps everyone coming back for an extra slice.