ConAgra Foods Leaves Sour Taste in Bloggers’ Mouths

What NOT to do when working with hungry food bloggers

What NOT to do when working with hungry food bloggers

Call me a child, but I love surprises. To me, a surprise party is the number one way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, etc. You’re instantly surrounded by everyone and everything you care about and really, what else could you ask for? But what if that surprise is the exact opposite – something you’re really not into and something you actually stand up against? That’s what happened recently when ConAgra and its public relations team at Ketchum invited food-loving bloggers for a “delicious four-course meal” prepared by George Duran, host of “Ultimate Cake Off” on TLC. In an attempt to recreate the Pizza Hut campaign which served hungry patrons at an Italian restaurant “delicious” pasta dishes only to reveal the meals were from Pizza Hut, the team secretly served participating bloggers a frozen Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna from ConAgra’s Marie Callender’s line – GASP!

When the secret was revealed to the bloggers, reaction was opposite of what the ConAgra/Ketchum team was hoping for. In fact, many bloggers felt as though they had been slapped in the face and took to the web and voiced their disgust over being tricked to eat frozen meals filled with preservatives and loads of calories – which many attendees strive to avoid daily. ConAgra and Ketchum eventually ended up cancelling any remaining “dinners” and quickly started apologizing for the switcheroo and for leaving a bad taste in anyone’s mouth (pun intended).

So why did such an elaborate stunt, designed to generate positive and “surprising” coverage, backfire? Both Ketchum and ConAgra seemed to forget two critical points about food bloggers (and bloggers in general):

  1. Bloggers are passionate about the topics they cover (especially Foodies). Why else would they be blogging about it? Most bloggers start writing because they feel strongly about a particular subject – especially when it comes to food. People who are passionate about food – a.k.a “Foodies” – have an intimate relationship with the things they eat. They want to know who prepared it, where it came from (local vs. imported) and really pay attention to ingredients in their meals. So it’s only expected that then trying to fool food bloggers, who pride themselves on being foodies, into enjoying a frozen meal simply, it’s just not going to fly.
  2. Bloggers are just as influential as a journalist at a major publication and expect the truth. We live in a digital age where everyone is connected to the internet, Googling everything in sight and most likely following at least a handful of blogs about topics they are passionate about. Bloggers know their audience just like every other journalist and their audience expects the truth – sometimes even more so from a blogger than from mainstream media. As a PR professional, you cannot take a blogger for granted just because they don’t work at the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Bloggers are journalists and can potentially be more influential to your key demographic than other sources. Why else would we want bloggers at our events and covering our news?

As PR professionals we rely on relationships to do our jobs. From my perspective, the best way to build a relationship and gain trust is to be transparent – whether you’re working with a blogger, mainstream journalist or your neighborhood dog walker. ConAgra and Ketchum lost touch with this and probably burned some relationships along the way. What this situation really boils down to is this – no one wants to be fooled when they’re looking for a surprise. Especially when you’re hungry.


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