Radio, billboard, television and print advertising still remain the norm for getting your business’ name in the heads of the public and consumer. But with the sustained popularity of social media and the coming of age of the younger generation of consumers, companies need to stretch the limits of traditional advertising now more than ever.

The general benchmark for retail bakeries spending money on advertising and branding is roughly 5% of sales. Perhaps bakeries need to spend more or even less depending on the strategy they choose to take. Either way, today’s market dictates that all businesses must acquire a new perspective on branding, advertising and promotions in order to maximize exposure and recognition.


Sharon Butler and Mary Pat Pace, co-owners of the Bon Bonerie Fine Pastries in Cincinnati, OH, have been in business for 30 plus years. Throughout its existence, Butler and Pace have always taken a creative approach to the way they promote the bakery. Always budget conscious, they’ve used their wits and keen sense of opportunity. For them, it’s not always about selling the most product possible, sometimes the goal is to simply make the Bon Bonerie and interesting place that people want to go to, and it doesn’t always cost a lot of money.

Butler and Pace do not have a set amount of funds to spend on advertising and promotions, they don’t do regular blocks of radio and print advertising, but that’s not to say they aren’t on the radio or in print sometimes.

Instead of buying blocks of radio and print advertising, Butler waits for the right opportunity. “With the radio for instance, let’s say there was a fundraiser on public radio, we would donate food and maybe do a matching grant for people that would call in during a certain period,” she says. “With magazines, I would pick and choose. They do just the wedding issue for our Cincinnati magazine for instance; I would always participate in those and have an ad because they would normally do a story about cakes or bakeries in general.”

Butler, Pace and the Bon Bonerie understand that human interest stories attract the public’s attention. “Occasionally there might be a story of human interest that has to do with the Bon Bonerie,” Butler says. Taking advantage of these situations has proved to create free promotion and advertising for the bakery.

“We designed a cookie that looked like Chad Johnson, aka Ocho Cinco, when he had the Mohawk,” Butler says. “Somebody from a local television station came in and saw it, and then they talked about it on their morning show.” This created an opportunity for Butler to go on the show and talk about the bakery. Anytime Butler was asked to do anything of this nature, she always said yes. “I took advantage of the fact that sometimes the press looks for something to talk about and I would have something that I hoped was interesting for them to talk about,” she adds.

Involve your bakery in the community

Often times, smaller operations may find it easier to get involved in something that brings good publicity to their business, or more importantly, gain some free advertising and promotion. The Bon Bonerie has partnered with one of its local children’s theaters for the last two years. For the production of Pinkalicious, the Bon Bonerie designs cookies for that specific production in the shapes of the characters and pink cupcakes for the theater. It will also serve Pinkalicious tea in the cafe.

“Bigger operations have to spend a lot of time figuring all that out, marketing it and researching it, but if we do 100, that’s okay for us,” Butler says. “We’re easily adaptable so we can respond more quickly.”

For the last seven years, Butler and the Bon Bonerie have involved themselves in “The Art of Food,” at the Carnegie Arts Center. “After participating in it, I ended up coming to the conclusion that the effects that pastry has on people is bigger than I thought,” she says. “It was very meaningful.” This led to a promotion that got considerable attention from customers and non-customers alike.

“I started interviewing people about their birthdays and how much they meant to them,” Butler says. They held a contest wherein people drew a picture of their most memorable birthday cake and what that cake meant to them. “We got hundreds of papers about this. After we looked at all of them, we came up with a winner.”

There were first, second and third place winners for the contest. First place received a pastry for a whole year, runner up got a cake decorating party, and third place won a birthday cake for themselves or somebody in their family.

“The main thing we do is things that have to do with the community,” Butler says. “I feel like I’m trying to create an environment where it’s interesting and I’m not always trying to sell something, that’s kind of our theme.”

The importance of the hand

The Bon Bonerie makes everything from scratch. Even the price cards on items in the store are handmade made. The owners, bakers, decorators and every employee pays meticulous attention to the details of craft and artistry. “I feel like it’s subconscious that people see that you care enough about the detail, it just kind of swims through the whole subconscious.”

Social promotion

Many bakeries have known for some time that Facebook provides a way to not only reach there faithful customers, but to reach an exponential amount of people who might not have heard of them before through the faithful. Mason’s Bakery in Ft. Meyers, FL, recently ran a promotion called the 24 days of Christmas sharing.

“We started the 24 days of Christmas contest with the hope of increasing our Facebook reach,” says Chris Ketcham, co-owner of Mason’s. Cake shops across the country have received a lot of attention in the past few years and Ketcham thought there would be interest, and there was. Mason’s posted a different decorated bakery item each day for 24 days. All people had to do was like and share the photo and they would be entered in a daily drawing to win a 1 lb box of cookies valued at $15 (Mason’s cost on the cookies was $2). The response far exceeded Mason’s expectations.

“We thought we might get 20 or so shares a day and possibly reach 1000 people a day, that was our goal,” Ketcham says. “We ended up averaging 100 to 150 shares a day and reaching 4,000 to 6,000 people a day. As the customers were notified they had one, they would come in to pick up their cookies and most purchased more items. The best was new customers came in to shop because they had seen a share from one of their Facebook friends and wanted to check us out.”

Multifaceted promotions

Mason’s helps sponsor a bridal show in the Ft. Myers area. Starting 30 days prior to the event, the bridal show is advertised on six different radio stations. Each ad mentions the sponsors including Mason’s bakery. During the show, brides have vendors initial that they came to the booth. Ten brides and 10 grooms are chosen at the end of the day. They put on smocks and go to the Mason’s area where a five tier wedding cake and an unusual groom’s cake are located. They get the signal to go and dive into the cake looking for 10 small boxes containing prizes from jewelry to spa packages to merchandise from Home Depot.

“This is great for me because for 30 days the public hears the bakery’s name on the radio. The day of the event, they see the Mason’s name posted everywhere and they remember a unique time in their life when they jumped into my cake,” Ketcham says. “Using all five senses is hard to get people to do when it comes to advertising, but it happens here. My target audience gets to hear, see, smell, touch and taste my product.”

Figuring out what works

Cutting edge, unique and innovative promotions make a statement in today’s world of huge advertising budgets. The public receives so many advertisements a day that a business needs to make itself stand out to the sensory overloaded consumer. But that doesn’t mean that just any crazy and kooky promotion will work. A business needs to take care in which promotional ideas to go through with and which to scrap.

Each Mason’s Bakery promotion offers a unique quality rather than something that is just over the top. “Sometimes I think going beyond ‘normal’ can actually have a negative effect in which the public actually rolls their eyes and shakes their head at you,” Ketcham says.

Always maintain the fact that you offer quality products and work to gain and hold on to the respect of your customers at all costs. These are the most important things to keep in mind when making the decision on whether or not to run a given promotion.

“We don’t want to become a coupon bakery. We never want to cheapen our name. If a promotion looks like it will yield a quick buck, but we feel the public will roll their eyes or shake their heads at us, we will not do it,” Ketcham says. “I think the trick to our most successful promotions is having your customers do the work for you. You need to find a way to create something so unique and fun for customers that they want to spread the word to other people.” 

Ketcham relates a simple philosophy on advertising and promotions that was passed to him from his father. “Don’t cram what you want down customers’ throats. Find out what they are interested in and cram that down.”