Guess what caused international outrage, but also created a major marketing opportunity? Melted ice cream. More specifically – ruined Baked Alaska.
The fourth episode of The Great British Baking Show (known as The Great British Bake-Off in the UK) premiered what was perhaps the most controversial moment in the history of the show, when Iain has a meltdown over his destroyed Baked Alaska. This came after a fellow contestant removed it from the freezer during the competition. Iain throws his ice cream out and presents his trashcan (or “bin”) to the judges, and is eliminated from the competition. In the realm of reality television in America (with the exception of PBS, of course), scandalous and “shocking” moments are quite commonplace. In the UK however, the event sparked headlines with viewers aghast at the outcome of the episode.
With the delayed broadcast schedule of British programming that airs on PBS after the initial airing in the UK, public media is provided with the chance to witness how an audience will react to plotlines before it airs in the states. The PBS Food team in conjunction with the PBS Marketing and Communication team recognized that although the American audience might not be equally as enraged as the UK audience, there was still an opportunity to leverage social media around the incident.
How Did We Respond?:
PBS Food decided to create a page entitled “Explaining the #Bingate Controversy to America” that both recaps the events of the episode while pulling in the notable reactions on social media from when the episode aired in the UK. It was an opportunity to push content to the PBS audience from a different angle while leveraging a fun Buzzfeed style and maintaining a PBS sense of sensibility.
Unlike Iain’s melted disaster, the effort was a rousing success leading to the highest single day of traffic in PBS Food history. Promotion of the page generated over 50,000 clicks from social media (474 comments, 863 shares, and 2,658 like on the PBS Facebook page with another 6K+ shares from the page itself). The poll at the bottom of the page asked for viewer reactions and it saw over 3.5K votes compared to 16 votes on a similar poll from the previous week’s episode. In terms of traffic on PBS.org, the page only ranked behind the PBS homepage, PBS programs page, and Downton Abbey streaming.
Clearly the PBS audience responded positively to the tone and voice of the piece, which was more in line with what they have come to expect across local and national sites. The added benefit was having content presented with the intelligence, fairness and depth that people expect from public media. There are opportunities across multiple programs to do similar stunts in the future. The page on PBS Food not only generated site traffic, but the GIFs were widely shared across social media (particularly Twitter and Tumblr). With streaming and site traffic numbers continuing to rise week-over-week, it's obvious that this helped increase interest in this already popular show.