In the 1970s and 1980s, Folgers ran an advertising campaign that had hidden cameras showing diners enjoying coffee in high-end restaurants.
The catch? The coffee was actually Folgers and not some hoity toity brand you’d expect in a white tablecloth restaurant.
Many other companies have replicated the campaign, including Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Coke, Pepsi, and now Marie Callender’s.
Last month, ConAgra, the company that owns the brand, and Ketchum, their PR firm, invited food and mom bloggers to a night out with “Ultimate Cake Off” host George Duran and (my favorite) food analyst Phil Lempert. The invitation was to an underground NYC restaurant, Sotto Terra, where they were told they’d enjoy a “delicious four-course meal,” the celebrity chef’s “one-of-a-kind sangria,” and learn about food trends.
What they were never told is that the lasagna and dessert from dinner were both actually frozen meals from Marie Callender’s. And hidden cameras caught all the action.
“The twist at the end was not dissimilar with what brands like Pizza Hut and Domino’s have done in the recent past with success,” said Stephanie Moritz, senior director of public relations and social media at ConAgra, referring to hidden-camera advertising campaigns. ConAgra expected to use the footage for promotional videos on YouTube and its website, and for bloggers to generate buzz when they wrote about being pleasantly surprised.
Turns out, upon finding out, bloggers were not pleasantly surprised. Sure, 62.5 percent of them enjoyed the food when they thought it was something prepared by George Duran and his team. But when discovering the switch they were outraged.
Many of them blogged about the whole evening being a “sham,” but most were upset by the fact that they live and preach organic living, only to discover the food they were served was not only highly processed, but also included 36 percent of their daily sodium intake.
Clearly bloggers are not the right medium for this kind of event. Going to festivals and street fairs and outdoor events and doing side-by-side hidden comparisons with consumers is a better choice.
For all of us who counsel clients (either internally or externally) there is a very valuable lesson here…and one I talk about consistently when I speak. Bloggers are the fifth estate and should be treated just like media. Traditionally, you would never invite reporters to a night out like this and then expect them to write stories. It’s seen as dishonest and unethical when working with that audience.
So why are bloggers any different?
This is a simple case of knowing your target audience, which is something our industry always tries to shortcut. But the research to gain the intimate knowledge of what they write and their beliefs, cannot be discovered through a shortcut, an algorithm, or a media list.
If bloggers and media fit your target audience, then perhaps a special night out for them and two of their readers is a good idea. But inviting bloggers who wouldn’t buy your product or service? Bad idea.