Today, the NY Times wrote an article about blowback from bloggers against ConAgra foods and George Duran, the chef who hosts the “Ultimate Cake Off” on TLC. They were invited to take part at a dinner in an underground restaurant in the West Village that was supposedly going to be prepared by Chef Duran. He made them some tasty sangria and a few appetizers, then served them lasagna and a dessert from the ConAgra line of Marie Callender frozen foods – under the guise of it having actually been prepared fresh. The entire dinner was being filmed, and the goal of this was to create some hidden camera TV commercials like those that have been so successful for Burger King, Pizza Hut others.
Unlike those examples though, some of these participants were not so willing and delighted to have been fed frozen food. Food Mayhem seemed the most angry, penning an “Open Letter to George Duran” in which he lambasted the chef and ConAgra for serving him a frozen dish packed full of preservatives – shortly after, as part of their pre-dinner discussion, he railed against foods loaded with sodium and preservatives. His eyebrows were raised even before “the big reveal” when his wife, after noting an allergy to food coloring, was served a zucchini dish instead of the lasagna everyone else was served – because the lasagna had food coloring in it. Why, he wondered would a chef need to use food coloring in a freshly prepared lasagna dish?
He wasn’t the only blogger upset about the experience. Mom Confessionals & Chubby Chinese Girl also expressed their displeasure at both being “duped” as well as being fed processed foods that they wouldn’t normally choose to put into their bodies. News of this blunder by ConAgra and the PR firm involved, Ketchum, has quickly spread to many other websites.
This is a classic PR blunder of not knowing your audience. Whopper Freakout worked brilliantly because those people already LOVED Whoppers. Their reactions were genuine and real. The Pizza Hut Pasta and Carl’s Jr. “Fake Restaurant” campaigns seemed successful and lacked blow back because the participants appeared to be more of the “people off the street” type who were happy to get a free meal and amused to discover the food they enjoyed was fast food. Ketchum screwed up, big time. The people they invited to this invite were either foodies – advocates of organic or preservative free eating, or mom bloggers, who frequently talk about the stresses of juggling family and personal life (and re-arranged busy lives or got baby sitters in order to attend).
Someone at Ketchum should have seen this coming, and they didn’t. They failed to anticipate the anger that some in this group of people were bound to feel in being “duped” as well as the anger people that closely monitor what they put into their bodies would feel after being secretly fed frozen food.
This post cannot be properly concluded without imagining (and wishing) that someone at one of these dinners had a reaction like this: