Bloggers on Ice

by Dan Ward

My partner, Kim Taylor, forwarded this New York Times Media & Advertising story to all team members today, advising us to learn from the mistakes of others.

And what a learning opportunity it is.

After seeing the success of hidden-camera advertising campaigns produced by Pizza Hut, Domino’s and others, Omnicom’s Ketchum PR unit decided to apply the same concept for its client, ConAgra Foods, to promote its Marie Callender’s line of frozen lasagnas. They would invite unsuspecting people to dine at an exclusive restaurant, serve them frozen meals without their knowledge, videotape the responses, then promote how the diners had no idea they were eating anything other than a gourmet, four-course meal.

But instead of bringing in just any unsuspecting diners, they decided to spring their little surprise on an audience of food bloggers and mom bloggers, including some who talk openly about “the sad state of chemical-filled foods” and the reasons for eating “organic, fresh and good food.”

In developing this promotion, somebody forgot several important rules of publicity.

#1 – You can’t control what the media (including social media) will say about you.  Pizza Hut and Domino’s had control over what was said about their “surprise” dinners. They could choose whether or not to go public with the results, and by buying ad space, they controlled the message.  But this was a media campaign. The bloggers were free to write whatever they wanted, and write they did.

#2 – Know thy audience.  Ketchum took a big risk that the bloggers would “get the joke” and write glowing reports of how wonderful the lasagna had tasted. That risk didn’t pay off.  Whether you’re pitching a traditional journalist or a mom blogger, do your homework and make sure your pitch matches their interests. If a blogger writes about her love for organic, fresh foods, surprising her with a frozen meal might not be the best approach.

#3 – Never intentionally mislead a reporter, or allow them to inadvertently mislead their audience.  The PR team misled the bloggers into thinking they were enjoying a meal cooked fresh by a celebrity chef. In doing so, they also misled the blogs’ readers.  How’d that work out for them?  Writes Mom Confessionals Founder, Suzanne Chan, “Our entire meal was a SHAM!”

Sometimes it’s good to think outside the box.  But in this case, the box should never have been opened.

One Response to Bloggers on Ice

  1. Chris Gent says:

    Great post, Dan and Kim. Reading the Suzanne Chan’s original blog post was an eye-opener for any company that were to attempt such a stunt.

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