A Recipe for a Perfect Sponsorship – Sainsbury’s and The Great British Bake Off

As one of Channel 4’s most popular shows, it was entirely appropriate that Sainsbury’s multi-year sponsorship deal of The Great British Bake Off, announced in March, was also the biggest in the series history.

Negotiated by PHD and with creative by Wieden & Kennedy, the supermarket’s chief marketing officer Mark Given described the partnership as “the perfect opportunity to celebrate and showcase the quality and innovation that Sainsbury's is known and loved for”.

The supermarket launched the sponsorship, which it uses to promote its Taste the Difference range, with stings across The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer. Voiced by Stephen Fry, directed by Joseph Mann and produced by Blink Productions, the “Cake or not cake?” stings invited Britain to guess if the product featured is an illusion cake created by ‘The Bake King’ Ben Cullen or one of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference products.

Philippa Beaumont and Freddy Taylor are the creative directors at W&K behind the sponsorship campaign. They are big fans of the power of TV sponsorship as a creative opportunity, whilst also acknowledging that there are lots of regulations around idents that do not apply to spot advertising. “They allow for more creative freedom, are short and sweet so need to be simple and are already connected to a well-loved show,” they say.

Among the Ofcom broadcast sponsorship rules by which brands and agencies must abide are that:

  • Sponsored programmes must be clearly identified as such by reference to the name and/or logo of the sponsor at the beginning and/or end of the programme.
  • The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored programme must be transparent.
  • Sponsorship credits must be clearly separated from programmes by temporal or spatial means.
  • Sponsorship must be clearly separated from advertising. Sponsor credits must not contain advertising messages or calls to action. In particular, credits must not encourage the purchase or rental of the products or services of the sponsor or a third party.
  • Where a programme trail contains a reference to the sponsor of the programme, the sponsor reference must remain brief and secondary.

So, while Beaumont and Taylor had been given a well-loved show to work with, they also had to adhere to these rules – most notably making sure that the idents were distinct enough from the programme itself while also paying homage to it. They describe their creative process thus: “You essentially have to find an emotive link between the brand and the show and then entertain people! But that’s easier said than done, you have to be pretty hard on the ideas as they are going to be rewatched so many times and nothing has the potential to irritate more than an annoying ident before your favourite show. So we’re constantly asking, how do you keep them entertaining? How do you not annoy people? How can you keep them surprising?”.

The answer, in The Great British Bake Off’s case, came from a Japanese gameshow that Beaumont and Taylor had seen and that requires people to bite into very random things in the hopes that they're chocolate and not something else. “The whole idea really came to shape when we were shown the products we had to feature in the sponsorship - steak, pasta, soups - that's when we realised just how brilliant it would be to do ‘Cake or not cake?’,” they say. “We really wanted them to be interactive, we loved the idea of using the space differently. The fact they’re a game that viewers can play along with makes them feel like an extension of the entertainment of the Bake Off, with all the drama and suspense you get from the show, rather than just a thing you have to get through before the show.”

While their ambitions were big, the time available to pull off their big idea was very limited. The pair worked with ‘The Bake King’ Ben Cullen who they describe as one of the best cake illusionists to create a variety of cakes that also look like products from Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range. “We wanted to create the most surprising and impressive cakes, ones that would really trick and delight. We had a very tight schedule so we had to work with Ben to figure out what could be achieved in the time and which products would make for the most surprising reveals,” they say.  Among the products that were playfully turned into cakes were sourdough loaf, peppers and oranges while other idents featured steak and comte. The idents stayed true to Sainsbury’s brand world, using its distinctive assets, white world, orange type and with Stephen Fry providing the voiceover.

As one of Channel 4’s biggest shows in terms of viewership, The Great British Bake Off is a hotly-contested sponsorship platform. The broadcaster and the company that makes the show, Love Productions, were therefore closely involved in the creative process involved in the making of the sponsorship idents. “They were massively useful allies in ensuring the final idents were both effective for Sainsbury’s and engaging for the loyal Bake Off viewers, say Beaumont and Taylor. “[Channel 4’s] ongoing Sponsorship Rocks research sets brilliant benchmarks about what works well in idents - we’re hoping that the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference sponsorship will feature heavily as best in class creative integration moving forward.”

Given the public sentiment to the sponsorship idents this ambition looks a realistic one – Channel 4, Sainsbury’s and W&K have cooked up something very special.

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