What brands can learn from The Great British Bake Off

Eleven series in, and The Great British Bake Off has safely solidified its place in the hearts of the nation’s households as a welcome escape from reality. Couple that with a global pandemic, a partial lockdown and crippling economic uncertainty, and it’s no surprise that Channel 4 racked up its biggest overnight launch audience to date, reaching a peak at 7.9 million.

Many of us have spent years watching contestants ride a wave of culinary triumphs and soggy-bottoms, eagerly awaiting the impeccably timed innuendos and Paul Hollywood GIFs. And this year’s first episode did not disappoint.

The 7 million strong audience was met with a shaggy haired Matt Lucas on a podium sporting the words “stay alert > protect cake > save loaves”, imitating a Boris Johnson address which had taken place just minutes before. Outlining guidelines for “Phase 46”, Lucas advised “people to use common sense with regards to the distribution of hundreds and thousands”.

But beyond being simply a clever introduction for the show’s latest presenter, the Lucas skit was also a subtle brand move. At a time when British brands are struggling to cut through (Kantar predicts that UK brand value has fallen by 13% in the past year), the show maintained relevance with its viewers by simultaneously acknowledging the current climate and showcasing its quintessential light-hearted humour.

So what have British brands been missing that the Bake Off has thrived on? The Bake Off’s response to the pandemic has struck a delicate balance. Whilst the show has undoubtedly adapted (creating a bubble of contestants, judges and producers so that they can avoid the need for social distancing), many of the changes have enabled the show to maintain its core identity – from the tent itself, to the friendly interaction that relies on close contact. But it has also done something more subtle; tapping into our desire as a country to escape reality, without failing to address the current challenges we face.

The Kantar report suggests that the brands which are able to anticipate change and differentiate themselves are those that will succeed in the coming months. But as the Bake Off shows, differentiating doesn’t necessarily have to mean completely overhauling your brand. Instead, it’s about finding ways to cut through the noise, to communicate smartly and to speak to what your audience want right now.

Inevitably, this job would have been easier for GBBO than many of the nation’s household names; after all, who doesn’t want to be wrapped in a warm, doughy blanket of Battenberg, meringue and Bakewell slices for an hour a week? Whilst this may be true, the show has been able to master something that many brands have failed to do – adapt to our changing world without losing its authenticity.