‘The cake is a lie’: Portal’s 2007 slogan was readily brandished throughout the game and came to exist in common lexis for many internet users and gamers worldwide. The catchphrase has been adopted by wider society to convey the despondency felt when a promise or reward goes undelivered. 

15 years ago, however, there was no guessing just how significant the term would come to describe an entire canon of online content. 

All this talk about cake, what’s the tea?

Now, just in case you have no idea what it is that we’re alluding to with all this cake talk, let us explain. In the last few years, a sensation has gripped the internet; cakes that look exactly like everyday objects. The internet has been captivated by cakes that disguise themselves as shoes, handbags, basketballs, soda cans, the list goes on. In fact, this phenomenon is so huge that Netflix ran with it and made a game show titled ‘Is It Cake?’, where contestants must decipher what is or is not cake. 

But why is Generation Z so obsessed with cakes that appear as everyday objects? Well, if we take a look at the 1981 work of French theorist Jean Baudrillard, ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ (inspiration for the cult classic – The Matrix), we may better understand the fundamentals behind the zeitgeist. 

Essentially, Baudrillard suggests that human experience has been replaced with a simulation of reality. In his theory, there are four stages of simulation. 

  1. Stage one is a good faith copy, something that we can perceive as relative to the truth of what should be. If we consider the scenario of a cake made to look like a shoe for example. The first image we see of this shoe is just a shoe, nothing more. 
  2. Stage two is a bad faith copy. Things are not quite what as they appear. The shoe is cut open and suddenly we realise all is not what it seems, the interior of the shoe is sponge and icing. 
  3. Stage three is the absence of reality. It’s not just one shoe that’s cake, it’s many shoes, it’s handbags, it’s a car, a chair. ‘The cake is a lie’ is now the truth. 
  4. Stage four is pure simulacrum, this is where Netflix gets involved, whether a cake is real or not is now a spectacle, a tv show, a chance to win money… but the money could just be cake. Reality is confined to a time before Portal told us the cake was a lie. 

So, we’ve established the cake is a lie? But, why does Gen Z love it so much?

Gen Z have a unique experience of the world, one that takes human connection out of the context of human nature and into the wonderful world wide web. Although we’ve all come to embrace the modern advances in technology – the pandemic sure pushed Zoom onto any of those managing to resist – the true inhabitants of the digital plane are those that were born into it. 

In a world where everything we know is backed up on a server in a data farm, who knows where, cake has become a symbol of the fragility of reality in the modern sphere. Although this may seem like a negative, this process of unrevealing the deception of cake provides a strange kind of comfort that reality lies at the core of everything. We can’t carve out photoshop, diet shakes, autotune or any of the other things that create a new reality on the internet; taking a knife to the cake, however, reveals its untruth. 

How can we use the phenomena of cake to influence content strategy?

Well, there’s a sentence you may never have expected to read. But now that we understand why Gen Z love cake masquerade, we can understand how to deliver what they want to read. Unapologetic reality. So, if you’re writing your content with the budding new generation in mind, then skips the airs and graces and cut to the core of what you’re trying to say. You may not come with a gooey chocolatey centre, but the hard-up truth is the flavour of the month amongst these hungry teens and twenties. 

If you need help with your content strategy, why not get in touch with a member of the It Works team today?