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ConAgra’s Blogger Campaign Backfires, Bloggers Not Happy

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Have you seen the Pizza Hut hidden camera commercials where it shows the surprise on people’s faces when they are told the pasta they are eating is from Pizza Hut and not some fancy Italian restaurant?

Well, it seemed to work okay for Pizza Hut, but ConAgra tried something very similar with a group of food and mom bloggers in NYC and it didn’t go as planned. In fact, the bloggers aren’t one bit happy about the event.

To make a long story short, several bloggers received this email from the PR company Ketchum who were handling the ConAgra blogger campaign:

We would like to invite you to an exclusive underground restaurant, Sotto Terra, with George Duran and Phil Lempert in New York City – only open from August 23-27, 2011. Please see the attached invitation for details – we hope you join us!

Most of the bloggers knew there would be a catch of some sort, but what they didn’t realize is that the four course meal they were promised was actually the Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra. Hidden cameras were placed around the dinner, meant to capture reactions from the bloggers eating the lasagna, as well as the Razzleberry Pie, also from Marie Callender’s.

Stephanie Moritz, senior director of public relations and social media at ConAgra, told The New York Times the plan was to use these hidden camera reactions as promotional videos for YouTube and their website.

Here are a couple of reactions from the bloggers who attended the event:

From MomConfessionals: “Our entire meal was a SHAM! 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.  I’ve got a sense of humor so I was okay with it and I had been enjoying myself up until that point, but I could tell that the rest of the participants were not.  Everyone feigned weak shock and faked approval of the frozen meal.  My guests were eager to leave all of a sudden and refused to sign the release.  I felt awful!” – read the entire post here.

From Chubby Chinese Girl: “THE CATCH FOR ALL THIS!? Well apparently, our main course and dessert, the lasagna and pie came from “Marie Callender’s” FROZEN BOXED MEALS. All George did was a la Semi-homemade style of stacking the lasagna and sprinkling fresh herb, then putting the pie in individual cups and topping it with vanilla ice cream. At least that explains why it wasn’t the amazing dinner I was expecting. I had a good laugh about it. Took a while to sink in, the whole night seemed like such a long and elaborate set up. I was a bit annoyed and truly disappointed/shocked, that George would be part of this at all. Specially the misleading way he talked about “his” favorite way to make lasagna, the ingredients, sharing with family and friends bla bla bla. Oh, and were were all being filmed! (J and I walked out without signing any waver. So I better not see us in any promo video). George said goodbye to us and hoped we weren’t “upset” about this whole thing.” – Read the rest of the post here.

Moritz told the NYT, “It was never our intention to put any bloggers or their guests in an uncomfortable position and for that we are sorry”.

She also said they offered to refund the bloggers for any expenses such as cab fare and babysitting fees. You can read the rest of this very interesting story here.

Do you think ConAgra and the PR agency crossed a line they shouldn’t have or are the bloggers over-reacting? We would love to hear your thoughts on this story.

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  • Head Ant

    I think it’s sad that a chef would agree to tout this processed garbage and mislead the bloggers.

  • Allison

    I kinda think they’re overreacting, to be honest. That sucks for the company if the bloggers didn’t have the shocked reaction they were hoping for because it means their food doesn’t live up to a high-class meal, but the bloggers who were involved could choose whether or not to sign the release.

  • Michele Price

    I agree Allison they are over reacting which doesn’t give bloggers a good name, so there is more than one way to look at this.  I think it is funny, a huge opportunity for them to write and gain publicity and talk about what they did or  did not like.  Never waste opportunity for publicity.

    I also think they should have signed before they participated.   Guess that is the business owner in me talking.

  • Guest

    That PR concept is old (substituting food for another food then a surprise reveal) and can work as part of a promotional campaign, provided you mainly invite people who are likely to give your product a shot. By inviting food bloggers, ConAgra and Ketchum (the PR firm) had people who typically are usually very vocal against processed food so how can they be surprised that they would react negatively?

    The issue here isn’t about right, wrong, taste or deceit. It’s about a PR moron who invited the wrong people to the event; had only “mom” bloggers been invited instead of them and food bloggers, likely the response would have been much more positive, especially if the emphasis had been put on convenience. A good deal could be said about the overly tender sensibilities of amateur food critics, but the reality is that Ketchum screwed up and killed their own campaign, plain and simple. I’d be surprised if ConAgra ever hired them again.

  • Kirsten Wright

    I think the bloggers are definitely over-reacting. The reality of it is the food wasn’t good – so the bloggers were mad at THAT, not really because they got “tricked”. If the food had been amazing, the footage would have been too and the whole story would be different.

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