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Making Better Cakes

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

I am not one for swallowing words. So, I will say this quite proudly before I start. I am a hypocrite and as Oscar Wilde would put it, "My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite."

I am a hypocrite because I love tech and all the convenience that comes out of tech, and yet, I am once again going to ramble about how tech might be missing out an important human insight. 

In the 1950s, post-war economy, men who were back from the war were rejoining the industrial workforce to replace women who had taken up these temporary roles while they were gone for the war. The women suddenly found themselves back in the kitchen. But gender equations had been altered irrevocably and women often struggled to prove their worth as a domestic goddess. Apparently, the real test to pass was to prove they knew how to bake a cake and an apple pie.

At this confusing time, Marschalk, General Mills and a few more companies launched the first cake mix in the market. It was a logical choice. There was a gap in the market and more importantly, a market in the gap. If women wanted to prove they knew how to make a cake, a cake mix would solve the problem. All they had to do was add water to the mix and lo, you have the cake.

The product failed miserably. In the user testing, every women said she wanted it and yet, when it launched, piles of boxes sat unclaimed in supermarket aisles. After many tests, they uncovered an amusing insight. The average housewife hated the product because it was too easy to use. She didn't get the feeling that she was actually making the cake. There was no physical action required. Just adding water didn't make her feel like she was a cook. And that was that. As simple as that. They wanted to work for the cake.

So, these companies did the obvious thing. They removed the egg from the mix. The ads now said, add an egg to the mix and add water for a good cake. If you don't add the egg, the product will be bad. And it worked like a charm. Suddenly cake mix was flying across shelves.

Therein lies an insight which tech companies miss. In our effort to make everything convenient and easy, we might be making it too convenient and too easy. Sometimes, people want to do an action to feel good about themselves. By denying them that opportunity, we end up doing two things. One, we take away the feeling of ownership. And two, we become background.  So, should we reduce convenience? No. But, every once in a while, I think tech companies should treat their customers like adults who are in charge of their lives and let them take control of things. 

Lazada makes people "collect" vouchers the day before the sale day. They could have just landed those vouchers in the inboxes of those customers who they know for a fact will use them. They have enough data to know that. And yet, they make it a process. And customers love it because they feel like they were a part of the act.

Habit changing apps often expect users to come back and tick in the box. It may seem like a waste of time, but that act actually helps to reaffirm the habit and give people the reassurance that they have the ability to do it.

So, add some egg to your cake mix. It makes the cake better and makes the cook feel better!


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