Obama cakes: recipe for Italian baker's success

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18:36 CEST+02:00
Naming a chocolate cake after US President Barack Obama has helped a small bakery in Salento, a region in southern Italy with acute unemployment, defy the economic crisis. The move has been described as "cunning marketing".

The marketing mix has been so successful that baker Angelo Bisconti is marking US Independence Day, July 4th, with the opening of a new factory on Thursday evening in his town of Campi Salentina, where ten new staff will produce more 'pasticciotto Obama', a type of pudding.

"Over the last five years, this cake has really helped business grow so much," Bisconti told The Local by phone on Thursday, as he geared up for the evening's festivities, which include the unveiling of a marble statue of President Obama in the square opposite his Pasticceria Chèri shop. To top the occasion, the square will also be temporarily named after the sitting US president.

Business has gone so well with the help of the president's name that the Chèri kitchens now produce 5,000 Obama cakes a day, Bisconti said. The cakes are even sold to the Brio in New York, an Italian restaurant owned by Carlo Scoditti. Scoditti will be among the privileged guests this evening, Bisconti added.

Bisconti said that the special cake was his way of honouring America's first black president.

Another example of Bisconti's creative marketing tactics

The unlikely presidential marketing ploy dates back to November 5th, 2008, when Bisconti and his team were scouting for a different recipe for their normally white pasticciotto, he explained. After tweaking some of the ingredient measures and adding cocoa to the mix, he and the rest of his baking team were delighted with the results.

As they wracked their brains for a name, news that the United States had elected its first black president broke on the radio.

"That was when the name came to us, it was our tribute to the new president," Bisconti said.

"We just changed the system we used to make the pasticciotto."

According to the Obama cake baker, his tasty treat even has the blessing of the US ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, although The Local was unable to confirm the claim with US embassy officials in Rome on Thursday.

To help promote the cake, Bisconti launched a website featuring a caricature of a smiling President Obama, holding a pasticciotto.

Ferruccio Pastore, director of the International and European Forum for Migration Research in Turin, said that although the caricature is somewhat questionable, the move is an example of cunning marketing.

"From a purely psychological point of view, there's an association between something sweet and a's supposed to be flattering, if slightly tainted with a suspicion of irony," he told The Local.

"The Miracle of the Obama Pasticciotto"

Pastore said that even though there seems to be an indirect allusion to colour, he deemed the move to be innocent.

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Italy has been hit by several racism storms in recent months, mainly in politics and football.

"Italy is not colourblind. We're still on a learning curve," said Pastore.

"But this story is fundamentally a kind story. In his way, a small businessman in southern Italy is making dialogue with a powerful man."

Pastore pointed to other products that traded off President Obama after his election. An ad for a chocolate-vanilla ice-cream bearing his name sparked an outcry in Russia, while other Russian ads featuring the US president included tanning salons and tooth-whitening services.

In Sweden, meanwhile, the owner of Obamas, a sausage and kebab stand which opened in the south of the country shortly after President Obama's first presidential election win, also found naming her business after the US president to be a winning marketing strategy.

"Customers also remember the name and recommend it to their friends,” co-owner Amro Hawary told The Local Sweden in 2011.

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