What The Great British Bake Off can teach us about localisation

Though it has its critics, feelgood reality TV show The Great British Bake Off is generally well-liked, and certainly well-known. In fact, it’s currently the second most popular food and drink TV programme in the UK, according to YouGov stats. And its success is not confined to British shores.


The iconic show is broadcast around the world. Regional versions have also been created. And it’s these regional variations that offer an interesting lesson in localisation.


As well as the original, I’ve watched two regional versions, the French Le Meilleur Pâtissier, and most recently, New Zealand’s The Great Kiwi Bake Off. And it’s been interesting to note the changes made to adapt the British show to the local market.* Even the intro clip offers an interesting case study.


*This is generally referred to as ‘localisation’, and it’s in this sense that I’m using the term


Local versions of the intro clip


The British original

The original show’s intro features some classic British bakes such as a Victorian sandwich, scones with jam and cream, as well as some icons of French patisserie, such as macarons. And there are several shots of handwritten recipes in English. The sequence ends with a raspberry-topped chocolate cake.


The Kiwi version

Some of the original footage has been used. But some appears to have been reshot to make way for New Zealand ingredients and treats. For example, kiwifruit make a few appearances in the intro sequence, and the classic afghan biscuit features too. The final chocolate cake shot is also slightly different – the cake seems smaller and is topped with strawberries instead of raspberries, with some kiwifruit next to the cake.


The French version

The intro clip to Le Meilleur Pâtissier is very similar to the original British. The only real difference I could spot was that the most visible shots of recipes have been replaced with recipes written in French.


Format, location, and bakes – the local touch

Of course, the changes don’t stop at the intro. Here’s a brief rundown of other aspects that have been tweaked from the original.


French flavours

The format of the French version diverges from the original a bit. For a start, of course, the location is different, and the show has taken the opportunity to add a distinctly French flavour, with season 10 held in the grounds of a stately château. Le Meilleur Pâtissier is also much longer – around two hours, compared to the British one-hour show. And the coveted Hollywood handshake is not the talk of the tent here. Instead, each week bakers vie for the tablier bleu (blue apron). I’m guessing this is in homage to the Tour de France’s tradition of the maillot jaune (yellow jersey). But perhaps there’s another story there? If you have an idea on the background, let me know, I’d be interested to hear.


Kiwi twist

Meanwhile, the format of The Great Kiwi Bake Off is pretty similar to the original. But naturally the location is rather different. Here, the whole challenge is held on a working farm (albeit a rather posh one) and the de-briefing chat with judges takes place in ‘the woolshed’, adding a rustic Kiwi touch. Some bakers have also made use of local ingredients. And the third week was Aotearoa week, which was a chance to showcase the endemic herb kawakawa and local landmarks.


Why have they made these changes?

Let’s start off with thinking about why the show’s local producers have bothered to make these changes. Particularly with the intro sequence. The French and Kiwi versions could very well have used the original as is, simply swapping out the ‘The Great British Bake Off’ graphic at the very end. Why did they choose to add elements of the local language, ingredients, and bakes?


There are probably several reasons. But here’s what I think.


1. Localisation pays dividends

By making these seemingly small changes, among many others, the local version of the show becomes ‘directly relevant to the person consuming it’ – that is, the local viewers. This makes the show more engaging, and helps to build a following, in turn increasing its chances of success.


2. A focus on ‘local’ content

In France, broadcasters legally have to invest a proportion of their revenue in producing French content. (Interestingly, a similar rule has just come into force for streaming giant Netflix, and these changes are also likely to be rolled out across other parts of the EU). So it could be that by localising the show in these ways it can be counted as ‘French’. This is just an educated guess, I’m by no means an expert on the topic.


There doesn’t appear to be a similar rule in New Zealand. That said, local broadcaster TVNZ announced earlier in 2021 that for the latter half of the year, their ‘investment in local content will be the strongest it's been in a decade.’ This is no doubt due, at least in part, to the ongoing travel restrictions. But it’s interesting to note that in this country too there’s a renewed focus on homegrown content.

3. Differentiate from GBBO

Another reason could be that a requirement of buying the rights to the British show was that local versions had to be clearly different from the original. I can imagine there being a legal rationale around that.


So what does this teach us about localisation?

  • Even the tiniest of details contribute to the overall impression of a product that’s ‘at home’ in a particular market

  • By creating a local version grounded in a specific country, that version builds up its own following and traditions

  • Localising audiovisual content goes well beyond the words used. Graphics and images also play an important role.

Share your thoughts

Do you agree? Maybe you have your own ideas about why these local versions were changed the way they were? Or perhaps you have examples of other local versions? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Don’t hesitate to add a comment below, or continue the conversation over on social media.

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

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