September 08, 2011
ConAgra Bait & Switch PR Stunt: What Was Marketing & Ketchum Thinking?
Of course it's a bait and switch and not a good one. They're food bloggers and you serve them processed boxed food from a "brand" when they think they're getting a hand-made meal by a well known chef? Who wouldn't be pissed and rightfully so?
I kept thinking throughout - their marketing team should be canned for SO not getting how off color this is not to mention off target.
The article below is reposted from the New York Times and Peter Shankman is SPOT ON - Ketchum should have known better. This is ethics 101 folks...ethics 101. Bait and switch is uncool for any marketing campaign but with bloggers who are going to WRITE about their experience. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
In August, food bloggers and mom bloggers in New York were invited to dine at an underground restaurant in a West Village brownstone run, apparently, by George Duran, the chef who hosts the “Ultimate Cake Off” on TLC.
Sotto Terra, the invitation said, was “an intimate Italian restaurant” where attendees would enjoy a “delicious four-course meal,” Mr. Duran’s “one-of-a-kind sangria,” and learn about food trends from a food industry analyst, Phil Lempert. The invitation continued that upon confirming — for one of five evenings beginning Aug. 23 — bloggers would receive an extra pair of tickets as a prize for readers and that the dinner would include “an unexpected surprise.”
The surprise: rather than being prepared by the chef, the lasagna they were served was Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra Foods. Hidden cameras at the dinners, which were orchestrated by the Ketchum public relations unit of the Omnicom Group, captured reactions to the lasagna and to the dessert, Razzleberry Pie, also from Marie Callender’s.
“Our intention was to really have a special evening in a special location with Chef George Duran,” said Stephanie Moritz, senior director of public relations and social media at ConAgra.
“The twist at the end was not dissimilar with what brands like Pizza Hut and Domino’s have done in the recent past with success,” she said, referring to hidden-camera advertising campaigns. ConAgra expected to use the footage for promotional videos on YouTube and its Web site, and for bloggers to generate buzz when they wrote about being pleasantly surprised.
But it was the marketers, not the diners, who were in for the biggest surprise.
The hidden camera is a staple in commercials, from Folger’s ads in the 1970s and 1980s where diners in upscale restaurants unknowingly enjoyed instant coffee instead of the house brew, to more recent Pizza Hut ads, where diners, again in upscale restaurants, unknowingly enjoyed pasta from Pizza Hut.
But while consumers tend to laugh along with the ruse, ConAgra was about to learn that bloggers, who often see themselves as truth-seeking journalists, find the switcheroo less amusing, especially when it entails them misleading their readers beforehand.
“Our entire meal was a SHAM!” wrote Suzanne Chan, founder of Mom Confessionals, in ablog post after the event. “We were unwilling participants in a bait-and-switch for Marie Callender’s new frozen three cheese lasagna and there were cameras watching our reactions.”
On FoodMayhem.com, a blog by Lon Binder and Jessica Lee Binder, Mr. Binder wrotethat during a discussion led by Mr. Lempert before the meal, Mr. Binder spoke against artificial ingredients while Ms. Binder mentioned being allergic to food coloring. When the lasagna arrived, Ms. Binder was served a zucchini dish, while Mr. Binder was served lasagna.
“We discussed with the group the sad state of chemical-filled foods,” wrote Mr. Binder. “And yet, you still fed me the exact thing I said I did not want to eat.” (Among the ingredients in the lasagna: sodium nitrate, BHA, BHT, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.)
On the evening she attended, Cindy Zhou wrote on her blog, Chubby Chinese Girl, that during the pre-meal discussion, she “pointed out that the reason I ate organic, fresh and good food was because my calories are very precious to me, so I want to use them wisely.”
She continued, “Yet they were serving us a frozen meal, loaded with sodium.” (An 8-ounce serving of the lasagna contains 860 milligrams of sodium, 36 percent of the recommended daily allowance.)
“I’m NOT their target consumer and they were totally off by thinking I would buy or promote their highly processed frozen foods after tricking me to taste it,” Ms. Zhou wrote.
As negative comments on blogs, Twitter and Facebook grew, ConAgra canceled the fifth evening and vowed not to use the hidden-camera footage for promotional purposes.
“Once we sensed it was not meeting attendees’ expectations, that’s where we stopped, we listened and we adjusted,” said Ms. Moritz, of ConAgra.
For the rest of the article, click here.
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