This week blogs from the New York Times to the Huffington Post covered a story that most bloggers had already been talking about for days in Skype chats and private Facebook groups. Ketchum PR – on behalf of ConAgra – invited bloggers to attend an exclusive dinner with TLC’s Chef George Duran at a mysterious restaurant called Sotto Terra. They were promised a four course meal, time to discuss food trends with supermarket guru Phil Lempert, and a surprise at the end of the night.
As the entire social media world now knows, the surprise was that the “delicious four course meal” they were promised was not prepared fresh by Chef George Duran as they might have anticipated. Instead they were served frozen food from Marie Callender, a ConAgra brand. The blogging world was outraged! The marketing world was ashamed. What were the agency and the brand thinking?
Unfortunately, the real offense has been completely overlooked by most. While many are saying that it was a bad move on the part of ConAgra to try the bait and switch/surprise! method that has worked for other brands (people eating pizza in a field, anyone?), I disagree. The English teacher in me loves a good plot twist, and shock value should never be underestimated. The idea at face value was clever.
However, the team planning the event must have forgotten a key rule that every blogger certainly would have remembered – know your audience. Treating the typical Marie Callender consumer or even bloggers in a demographic that might be considered frozen-food friendly to this type of evening would likely have brought a completely different result. Inviting vocal food bloggers, whose strong opinions against frozen foods with high sodium and preservatives are easily found on the very blogs that earned them a dinner invitation, was far more than just a roll of the dice. Any marketing or public relations professional who deals with food brands knows the angry divide between the “foodies” and the packaged food brands that market to a completely different demographic than that represented at these “exclusive dinners”. Why not invite frugal living or quick meal prep bloggers instead? How about parenting bloggers who have been determined to be brand friendly based on the other brand interactions on their blogs? The event was less a misfire and more a missed opportunity.
Yes, social media marketers should be outraged by the ConAgra dinner debacle, but not because of the marketing ploy that was used. The real travesty is how poorly it was executed.
Footnote: This evening I read another post about the the ConAgra event written by my friend and social media peer, Fadra Nally, that echoes the same sentiments. I can’t help wonder if there were more of us in the room when these decisions were being made if the outcome would be different…