I saw this postcard on postsecret.com last week. This wasn't my card but it might as well could have been. Only I don't pretend its a secret. In case you don't know about Post Secret they describe themselves as "an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard." The cards are quite colorful and often thought provoking. Some are quite sad ("I wish I knew how to fall out of love") while others are funny ("My wife thinks I'm having an affair with her sister - wrong sibling!") This particular one about baking struck me only because I thought it so completely obvious that we bakers are attention seekers. I wondered why this person thought a card was necessary at all? Do check out the site -- its been a weekly stop on my blogroll for a few years now.
The baking postcard reminded me of a story one of my early MBA brand marketing professors told my class. He was a former "titan" of early day consumer product advertising (think "Madmen") and he told my class about the study he commissioned in the late 1950's for the good people at Duncan Hines. It seems late-1950's housewives were rejecting their newer, easier cake mixes in an era when products designed to practically cook themselves (TV dinner anyone?) were flying off the shelves. All the new cake mixes required was added water and a hot oven but the Betty Drapers were having none of it. The study quickly showed that the decline in sales coincided with the point mixes were updated to utilize powered eggs. Powdered eggs allowed for cake baking when fresh eggs were not available and to simplify the whole process. So why was a product made easier failing so drastically? My professor's team discovered that it was the act of breaking an egg and adding it to the mix that activated certain deep, emotional connections women have with regards to baking and the attention they were seeking from their families. Seriously! Turns out that women connect to baking much differently than they do to regular cooking. The psych studies even went so far as to suggest that women subconsciously likened the presenting of a cake to their family with the moment they brought home a new baby from the hospital! Of course, not exactly the same but they hypothesized that similar areas of the brain were at work. He went into a lot of detail that touched on Freudian egg symbolism, ovaries and the female evolutionary contributions to family, etc. as well as a bunch more far out stuff. The long and short of it was that the study unquestionably connected women emotionally to baking in a way that regular cooking did not. The origins were not just emotional but probably also biological. To make a long story short the powers that be at Duncan Hines quickly restored the fresh egg requirement and sales immediately picked up again. To this day cake mixes still require an egg even thought they certainly wouldn't need to. Think about that.
Since I don't have ovaries I was interested to read a contemporary study on baking motivations commissioned by Land O'Lakes. Their Baking Trends Report pretty much confirms the Duncan Hines findings of decades earlier -- only its results sound a much less creepy:
- Baking evokes strong emotional feelings and satisfaction which are not as evident for cooking
- A way to show love for family, friends
- Learning to bake from parent/grandparent creates emotional ties; desire to pass on and/or remember
- Important outlet for creative impulses, a talent
- Pride is a powerful motivator; self actualization and
- Strongest reason is emotional and relationship-related