GBBO, Betty Crocker, and Baking in General

29 September 2016

Over the past few weeks we’ve been getting to grips with dramatic Great British Bake Off news. Shock-waves were sent rippling through the country when we learnt that this series would be the final one as we know it. In this office, like in many offices around the country, the reaction ranged from a healthy dollop of dismay to a big helping of speculation. First Mel and Sue announced their resignations and Mary Berry, a few days later, followed suet. (Yes, pun very much intended.)  

Listening to an agent and TV commentator on the radio last week, I found myself drawn into discussions around the show’s brand, a mix of many factors, including the presenters and their chemistry, the channel, the contestants and the relationship overall with the audience. This got me thinking about another iconic baking brand, which was introduced to America in the 1920s: Betty Crocker.

Cookery, Section 3 © Bowling Green State University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

 

In our resource, American Consumer Culture, is an intriguingly titled Psychological Research Study on the Effectiveness of Betty Crocker in Promoting General Mills Products which caught my eye. Published in 1953, (and, noting that this report is very much a product of its time, soliciting responses only from women) part of it seeks to answer the following questions. 


A psychological research study on the effectiveness of Betty Crocker in promoting General Mills products © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


I wanted to learn more about the some of the results found in points 1, 3 and 6 so decided to dip into some of the quoted responses and passages of analysis that were geared around understanding what consumers thought of her personality.

One reply below demonstrates the power of the representation at the time:


A psychological research study on the effectiveness of Betty Crocker in promoting General Mills products © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

On the whole, I was interested by the comments on her light-hearted approach to cooking. According to this consumer, she is someone who isn’t ‘afraid to make mistakes’. It was also fascinating to see the ways in which the character humanised the brand - that the respondent here placed her in the role of a friendly, family member.

Yet, looking more closely, the report goes on to suggest that such attributes vary according to the characteristics or the ambitions of the women sampled.

A psychological research study on the effectiveness of Betty Crocker in promoting General Mills products © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

Thus, according to the researchers, the range of responses tended to vary widely, with some imagining a career woman, others a mother, some noting her warmth and others her education. Of course there were also some respondents who were not at all enamoured of her character!

This personal connection, by way of projecting certain characteristics, led to me look more closely at the following response, which intertwines these aspects much more explicitly:

A psychological research study on the effectiveness of Betty Crocker in promoting General Mills products © Hagley Museum and Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

Susan Calman, in a recent, passionate defence of the programme, declared that GBBO is ‘not about cakes!’ While, in a sense, I see what she is trying to get at, the point is that the show is about cakes – as well as bread, pastry, botanicals, biscuits etc. But I wonder whether it is also a show that people respond to depending on what it means to them, whether or not baking is something they are good at themselves. It goes without saying that there are many responses and conclusions in the Betty Crocker research study that reflect completely different attitudes to the ones we hold today. Yet, I was struck by the similarity of some of the adjectives used above when compared to descriptions of the GBBO brand: sociable, warm, experimental and creative. Of course, many of us will also miss those appalling, but much beloved, baking puns.

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About the Author

Clare Mence

Clare Mence

I joined Adam Matthew as a Development Editor in 2014. Since then, I have enjoyed working on a number of exciting projects and look forward to many more.

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