How To Cake It team on baking up digital success

Producers Connie Contardi and Jocelyn Mercer on their brand building strategy that helped attract 1 million subscribers to their YouTube channel in less than a year.

Before dedicating themselves to solely digital endeavors, Toronto-based producers Connie Contardi and Jocelyn Mercer helmed the successful lifestyle-focused CJ Meron Production, producing series such as Mr. Friday for Slice and landing a first-look deal with Entertainment One.

However, one of the projects they believed most passionately in, Sugar Stars, was not renewed past season one with Food Network Canada. After the cancellation, however, Contardi and Jocelyn saw the show still had some legs on social media following sales to international broadcasters. The pair were particularly keen on producing a show featuring Sugar Stars cast member Yolanda Gampp, but couldn’t convince a network to do a show with just her.

Instead, Contardi and Mercer decided to work with Gampp to launch a YouTube channel under the moniker How To Cake It. Three months in, they decided to move away from traditional media and become full-fledged digital producers. The move has appeared to pay off, with How To Cake It hitting the 1 million subscriber milestone at the end of January, less than one year after launch, thanks in part to a larger brand-building strategy executed by Contardi and Mercer.

“The reason we called it How To Cake It is because we wanted to create an entire brand. We wanted to create a 360-degree, holistic digital brand that was going to start online, it was going to start with YouTube being the centre of it, but it was going to have all these extensions and touch points,” Contardi told Playback Daily.

When developing How To Cake It, Contardi and Mercer took a hard look at what was already available on YouTube in the baking space. Rather than hyper-focus on the instructional aspect of baking, they decided to frame How To Cake It as a more entertainment-focused show. The web series was designed to appeal to people who may not be super passionate about baking, but still find it interesting, Mercer said.

“Even if you are never going to make that cake, you are still going to enjoy watching the episode,” she said. The producers also methodically approached their audience-building efforts, focusing first on using social media to drive viewers to their YouTube channel, which at the time was the brand’s only revenue source.

“Within the first six months, every single effort we were making across all of our social media plans, the only goal we had was to push people to YouTube. We knew at that time YouTube was the one platform that was monetized completely [via ads],” Mercer said.

Once the YouTube channel had sufficient traffic, Mercer and Contardi began focusing on driving the audience to other revenue-generating offshoots of the brand, such as an e-commerce site. The producers launched a holiday product line on the e-commerce site, which also allows users to shop “by video” for products Gampp uses in specific clips.

How To Cake It is also part of the lifestyle-focused MCN Kin Community, which picked up the channel when it had about 2,000 subscribers due to the potential it saw in the brand, said Rick Matthews, KIN Community Canada managing director. Through the KIN partnership, How To Cake It has also earned revenue through branded spots, working with companies such as Yoplait and Wilton.

Going forward,  Contardi and Mercer are aiming to expand the global reach of How To Cake It by customizing it for other territories, and developing live stream baking activation that allow fans to bake with Gammp. They also plan to grow their e-commerce operations with new and exclusive product offerings.

“I think we just really went with our guts and acted a little bit recklessly,” Contardi says of their jump into the digital space. “But we really had a strong belief it was going to work somehow or somewhere.”