How a Stack of Pancakes Taught Me a Valuable Lesson About Content Creation

Photo: Jenn Burgess

By Michael Marabella

This is a story about discovery, persistence, and pancakes.

Earlier this year, I received an email from one of our content strategists. It was a content request for a National Pancake Day post. While most content requests are usually pretty fleshed out, this one was exceptionally vague; “A shot of a stack of pancakes to celebrate NPD.”

Now, that may seem pretty straightforward, but I was floored. There were so many ways to do this, I didn’t even know where to start. Of course, I could take the easy road—order some pancakes and take a simple photo—but what’s the fun in that? There were going to be hundreds of photos of pancakes posted on National Pancake Day. This one needed to stand out.

My first thought was that this content should have some movement. A static image wasn’t going to "wow" the way a GIF or a video could. But how do you make a pancake move? A syrup pouring cinemagraph seemed viable, but it wasn’t really as playful as I was hoping.

I decided to experiment with a simple spinning movement. I figured if we made the stack of pancakes tall enough, we could get a really interesting gif out of it. We set up in the studio, and ordered a couple dozen pancakes. A few syrup-consistency tests and several layers of spray adhesive later, this was our result.

The GIF worked, but there was something off. The empty space may have drawn your eyes to the pancakes, but without context, the gif didn’t really say anything. It was at this moment I realized it wasn’t the approach that made the content interesting, it was the story behind it. I had to contextualize these pancakes. Only then would this post feel right.

So, back to the drawing board. I returned to my desk to start brainstorming while our giant stack of pancakes sat on the table in our office kitchen. Soon thereafter, I noticed that everyone who passed the monstrosity felt compelled to take a picture of it. And who wouldn’t? It’s not every day you see a stack of pancakes taller than a small child. This was my “a-ha” moment.

Today, photos of food run rampant across social channels, so why not call attention to this phenomenon on a day when pancake photos will fill everyone’s news feeds?

I had my story, and I had a visual concept. Now I needed to connect them. I still wanted the pancakes to spin, but how could I show others taking photos of the pancakes at the same time?

Another epiphany.

What I had discovered was a way to blend my approach and my story together as one. Not only would we feature people crowding around this stack of pancakes to photograph it, but those photographs would also BE the content.

I quickly recruited 15 people from around the office and made them all stand in a circle around our now infamous pancakes. I instructed everyone to take out their phones and, after a bit of fine tuning, to snap a photo. The result was 15 photos of “the stack” from 15 different angles. I simply stitched these photos together, and voila, the result: narrative, engaging, unique. 

This little gif not only excites, but it has a motivation for existing. It was through this plate of pancakes, butter, and syrup that I learned a valuable lesson. Content is only as strong as the story behind it. And no matter how cool, flashy, or exciting an effect or style may be, if it doesn't have a purpose, it simply won’t work.

Everything needs motivation, even pancakes.