Our Love of Cake

Few things in life are as comforting as cake. On a very basic level, a nice slice of cake rapidly satisfies the brain’s ancient hard-wired need for energy, something of a double-edged sword with the more sedentary lifestyles we lead today compared to those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But cake is far more than just a quick intake of energy – it’s special, a food that seems to appeal to so many different aspects of the consumer psyche.


Marketers have long understood our emotional connections with cake and sort to leverage them to profitable effect. Ernest Dichter first realised that there is a strong family dimension to this most desirable of products, persuading the Betty Crocker company to have customers add the quite unnecessary ingredient of an egg to its instant cake mixes, a tactic designed on an unconscious level to reinforce or recapture the traditional image of the American mom baking for her family in a world becoming more instant, more immediate, more fast-paced – and that was way back in the 1950s, not in today’s always-on social media world. Over the years, consumer psychologists have identified a number of other emotional markers of a successful cake brand, from the product’s association with indulgence and special treats, through to the role of cake in social rituals (wedding cake, christmas cake) and the growing emphasis on natural ingredients (balancing the dangers of sugar with a caring healthy subtext).

A nice understated example of all of this can be found in the “Little Thief” campaign from cake stalwart brand Mr Kipling. In contrast to their rather gimmicky “edible billboard” in Shepherds Bush, the current commercial skilfully blends a number of tried-and-tested themes as it tells the story of a young boy at a family gathering constantly trying to steal a slice of Angel Cake to take home – the twist in the tail, of course, is that this isn’t a selfish act, the boy actually wants to take the cake home to his older sister who is marooned in her bedroom revising for exams. Every emotional ingredient is there, baked to perfection by placing what seems a rather traditional story within a contemporary context and connecting it with our daily lives. A true television advertising classic, if every there was one.

So, in a social media world where we are constantly being bombarded with marketing messages and everyone appears to be struggling for our attention with more and more outlandish ads, it’s nice to see Mr Kipling remembering those basic motivational principles in a campaign that, first and foremost, is proving extremely effective.

Categories: Motivation