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Brand Bullying: A Tale of Ragu and Social Media

By: Guest | October 4, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Michael Schechter.

Last week, C.C. Chapman blogged about the latest example of poor social media marketing – Ragu Hates Dads.

The brand had reached out to him on Twitter with a campaign that admittedly is in pretty poor taste, and C.C. took to his blog to respond.

It wasn’t the fact that he felt the need to call out their failure that caught my attention (and I certainly don’t argue that it was a failure), it was how he went about it that stood out.

The tone of his first post was excessive and I think we can all agree that going out and buying FURagu.com may be going overboard (no, seriously, he bought FURagu.com and redirected it to his post.). Ragu tried something and they failed. Hopefully they learn from the experience but do we really need to make them pay?

When we start by ripping a brand a new one, we aren’t encouraging them to learn. We are encouraging them to get the hell out of this space. I know this is their nightmare scenario. It is the reason they do not want to embrace social media. They live in terror of any negative review, nonetheless a scathing one from a top-tier influencer.

I have to imagine that the big brands feel the same way, especially when you consider they are a much juicier target.

We live in a time where the power is clearly shifting from brands to the consumer, but let’s not get carried away. All of these so called internet “kerfuffles” are great blog fodder and are perfect for the next keynote speech, but they rarely affect the long-term bottom line of a business (anyone flying Southwest Airlines less? Avoiding Nestle? Wearing less Kenneth Cole? Refusing Motrin? Didn’t think so…). This latest “tempest in a teacup” feels like an attempt to turn Ragu Dads into Motrin Moms rather than an effort to help a brand to do a better job with their marketing.

The real story here is that while there is the potential for a better balanced relationship between buyer and seller, things are still in flux. Brands are yet to fully understand the power of platforms that their average customers now possess (and by average consumer I really mean a person with a massive following and a high Klout score) and influencers can occasionally go a bit too far in their criticism…

To my fellow brands

Be prepared. At some point, someone is going to set their sights on you. At some point you are going to screw up. At some point you will deserve it. I feel your pain, but you are going to have to take smarter chances and frankly, you are going to have to become better companies.

Take the time to test your ideas offline before you go live. In the case of Ragu, if you want to connect with dads, talk to as many as you can before you attempt outreach (and while you’re at it, don’t use Twitter spam to do your outreach). By having these conversations in private, you’ll avoid heading in a wrong direction and won’t make your missteps in public.

On the days that you do try something new, be present and stay on top of things. If someone is being abusive, you don’t necessarily have to engage them in public (just make sure to connect privately as Ragu did). You don’t want to underestimate the power of an influencer and if you hope to leverage their platform, you better take the time to show them some respect.

To influencers

I have to ask, is this really how you want to use your power? Don’t lose perspective and don’t become a bully. Brands genuinely WANT to work with you, but this is going to be a bumpy road for most of them. They’ve done things a certain way for a long time and now the ground has moved underneath their feet. They have to change, but the learning curve is steep, so please try and be cautious with your criticism.

Take the time to ensure the tact you take is in proportion to the actual offense. Your blog can, and will, cost people their clients and possibly even their jobs. If you really want to help, worry less about looking for failures for your next keynote speech or the next chapter in your book (it makes some of us question your motives…).

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to call out brands who slip up, that you shouldn’t use the same platform that the brands themselves hope to leverage when they fall short. I’m just asking if this is the best way to go about it if we have any hope of encouraging businesses to participate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not interested in joining a conversation that starts off by telling me how stupid I am and I can understand why Ragu wasn’t either.

So, how do we play nice in this brave new world? How can brands be smarter in their outreach and how far should influencers go when they feel that they’ve been wronged?

Michael Schechter is the Digital Marketing Director for Honora Pearls, a company specializing in freshwater pearl jewelry. He writes about all things digital over at his blog.

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245 Comments on "Brand Bullying: A Tale of Ragu and Social Media"

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KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

Thank you for this. I cringed when I read that. To me, it’s the equivalent of going directly to Twitter to badmouth a restaurant when they haven’t seated you as quickly as you would have liked, before having gone thru the proper OFFLINE channels first. Twitter +Smartphone = deadly combination, and the power goes to our heads. Same with a blog if you have any sort of following.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller We see this every now and again with our own brand. A customer will lash out in a forum or social before even giving us a chance to service their customer. It’s an emotional experience and I understand why they do it, just wish they give the brand an opportunity to step up in private before lashing out in public.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller We see this every now and again with our own brand. A customer will lash out in a forum or social before even giving us a chance to service their customer. It’s an emotional experience and I understand why they do it, just wish they give the brand an opportunity to step up in private before lashing out in public.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@KenMueller on the plus side, if you step up for your customers enough, they will step up for you as well. Just as often as those kinds of angry comments pop up, another customer will jump in to tell them how we’ve helped them in the past.

Chris McNamara
4 years 8 months ago
This is a case of poor research. Had Ragu’s agency reserached CC and Digital Dads, the agency would have seen this type of campaign really isn’t appropriate for him. Would you pitch (tweet) all-beef hamburgers to a vegan blogger? No. Would I expect to see an angry blog post from a vegan blogger after being tweeted something like that? Yes. If CC wasn’t directly engaged by Ragu, went on a soapbox and chose to just sound off, I would agree that he’s being a bit unfair. But we, as PR and marketing professionals, can’t lay blame on influencers when it’s… Read more »
Chris McNamara
4 years 8 months ago
This is a case of poor research. Had Ragu’s agency reserached CC and Digital Dads, the agency would have seen this type of campaign really isn’t appropriate for him. Would you pitch (tweet) all-beef hamburgers to a vegan blogger? No. Would I expect to see an angry blog post from a vegan blogger after being tweeted something like that? Yes. If CC wasn’t directly engaged by Ragu, went on a soapbox and chose to just sound off, I would agree that he’s being a bit unfair. But we, as PR and marketing professionals, can’t lay blame on influencers when it’s… Read more »
KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago
@MSchechter I’ve written about this before, and I probably will again…I think part of our job is to also educate our customers and the general public as to how to properly use Social Media. We read about United Breaks Guitars or the Kevin Smith/Southwest story, and everyone wants to be “that guy”. But I agree, it just puts more of a burden on us to do our job better. It holds us more accountable. I tell my clients that 99% of their customers probably leave very happy. We need to tap into that and equip them to be spreading positive… Read more »
Chris McNamara
4 years 8 months ago
This is a case of poor research. Had Ragu’s agency researched CC and Digital Dads, the agency would have seen this type of campaign really isn’t appropriate for him. Would you pitch (tweet) all-beef hamburgers to a vegan blogger? No. Would I expect to see an angry blog post from a vegan blogger after being tweeted something like that? Yes. If CC wasn’t directly engaged by Ragu, went on a soapbox and chose to just sound off, I would agree that he’s being a bit unfair. But we, as PR and marketing professionals, can’t lay blame on influencers when it’s… Read more »
Tinu
4 years 8 months ago

Great advice for brands and influencers. We consumers have an opportunity that may not come again for generations, in being able to penetrate through several layers of gatekeepers and influence the way brands huge and minor move. And if we get enough of them to open the lines of communication, they could stay open. Or we could squander it and have to wait decades for another chance to come again, as brands slink away from conversation and opt to use social media as just another place to broadcast rather than interact.

Tinu
4 years 8 months ago

I also believe we have to learn to thank as publicly as we bash. @MSchechter @KenMueller

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Chris McNamara There is no doubt that it was poorly aimed and poorly executed. But I still think there is little doubt that CC’s response was disproportionate.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Chris McNamara There is no doubt that it was poorly aimed and poorly executed. But I still think there is little doubt that CC’s response was disproportionate.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Chris McNamara There is no doubt that it was poorly aimed and poorly executed. But I still think there is little doubt that CC’s response was disproportionate.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Chris McNamara There is no doubt that it was poorly aimed and poorly executed. But I still think there is little doubt that CC’s response was disproportionate.

KenMueller
4 years 8 months ago

@Tinu@MSchechter agreed. I try to promote much more than I bash. I think we need to promote a culture of promoting.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Tinu I think the change is here to stay. I don’t think brands could “shut down” influencers even if they wanted to. I just think the next few years will determine how enjoyable and mutual those relationships are going to be.

Erin F.
4 years 8 months ago
The answers to each of those questions possibly could turn into blog posts in and of themselves. I think I’ve found an answer that might work for each one of them: personal responsibility. Playing nice is up to the person, although it can become a community effort through the moderation of comments or people uniting together to say that a certain type of behavior won’t be tolerated. Brands, too, have to be responsible. Do the necessary research, then do some more before implementing a new campaign. The influencers have to take responsibility, too. They can shoot off at the mouths,… Read more »
MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Erin F. Apparently a little bribery goes a long way with GIni. I completely agree with you, but the thing to keep in mind is that the influencers are more “fluent” in social. I’m not saying that is an excuse for sloppy work, it’s just more of a fact. It’s also much easier for individuals to make decisions than corporations with multiple tiers of comfort and familiarity in digital. It’s going to be harder and it is going to take time.

As you said, both sides need to be a bit (read: a lot) more understanding of one another.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
4 years 8 months ago

Reader:

1. Get a sense of humor!

2. Be constructive in your suggestions.

Marketer:

1. Plan better! Know your audience.

2. Like Brogan said, don’t phone in social media. Take it seriously.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 8 months ago
I love this post for a number of reasons but primarily: Because we spend a lot of time here talking to organizations about getting their heads out of the sand and engaging on social media. They talk about their fears of negative backlash, and we say, the conversations are happening anyway. Be there to manage it. And to your point exactly; when someone tries something new and it doesn’t work, the over-reaction is enough to send them back to the sand. and @Erin F. , we told @MSchechter that if he didn’t get 550 comments like he did on his… Read more »
HowieSPM
4 years 8 months ago
Great post @MSchechter I was unaware of the CC Champan/Ragu situation. I forget who wrote the recent post on knowing your audience and the bloggers you reach out to. I have interacted with CC for over a year on the Twitter. He is a nice guy and a great Dad. And of course this would offend someone who is championing Dad equality when it comes to raising kids. Last year his daughter decided to try being vegetarian. Instead of being ‘Old School Dad’ the type Ragu is targeting he is ‘Nu Skool’ and he encouraged her even cooking dishes for… Read more »
HowieSPM
4 years 8 months ago
Great post @MSchechter I was unaware of the CC Champan/Ragu situation. I forget who wrote the recent post on knowing your audience and the bloggers you reach out to. I have interacted with CC for over a year on the Twitter. He is a nice guy and a great Dad. And of course this would offend someone who is championing Dad equality when it comes to raising kids. Last year his daughter decided to try being vegetarian. Instead of being ‘Old School Dad’ the type Ragu is targeting he is ‘Nu Skool’ and he encouraged her even cooking dishes for… Read more »
MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@rustyspeidel In cc_chapman ‘s defense, he did offer suggestions after the initial lashing, but the first post killed most chances of the second one hitting home.

Amen on the marketing bits. Knowledge and intent will take you a long way…

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@rustyspeidel in his defense, he did offer suggestions after the initial lashing, but the first post killed most chances of the second one hitting home.

Amen on the marketing bits. Knowledge and intent will take you a long way…

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@Lisa Gerber Looks like we need to unleash the commenting clan if I have any hope of being invited back 🙂

I can’t help but hope that both the brand and CC learned from the experience… It’d be a shame to see Ragu heading for the sand, but they seem to be course correcting and moving forward.

JayDolan
4 years 8 months ago

My only goal in life is to build a social media empire so I can crush any brand that wrongs me in the slightest. I hope to be like that kid in “The Good Life” episode of the Twilight Zone who can control everything with his mind, so that brands will cower before me.

OK, fine, I’ll just settle for making a few bucks here and there. But I can dream.

AmandaOleson
AmandaOleson
4 years 8 months ago
This whole scenario is frustrating. Yes, Ragu should have done their homework better – and they definitely should have thought about how the “dopey dads” implication comes across. It’s offensive- I get it. However, buying FURagu.com and ranting for DAYS about it? Is that how adults behave? No. To me, this is a whole lot of school yard bullying. We tell our kids NOT to do that… don’t we? (Yes.) Furthermore, my mother always taught me to never burn my bridges- because you never know when you’ll have to cross them again. How are these days and weeks of ranting… Read more »
SocialMediaDDS
4 years 8 months ago
@MSchechter I love your perspective. Sometimes, when we really get caught up in ourselves and in the hype that surrounds us, we forget that we,too, had to start somewhere…that we weren’t always where we are now. It reminds me of grade school when there were always those guys who “matured” early and were tall and strong and intimidating. Some of them would use this new found power to create a “leadership” position and reveled in this feeling. But, a couple of years later, the slow growers finally caught up in size…in fact, often they surpassed the size of the once… Read more »
MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago
@HowieSPM As far as CC goes. I’ve always admired the way he goes about his work. In this particular case, I don’t think Ragu was looking to be malicious, just misguided. I certainly don’t know him like you do, but his reaction seems way out of whack to Ragu’s offense. I may be dead wrong, but it just feels like that there is a desire to make this bigger than it is. To add content to keynote speeches. As for the second part, I don’t think its that no one cares, just that a hell of a lot less people… Read more »
MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@JayDolan I look forward to your reign of terror… 🙂

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@AmandaOleson I for one LOVE my big girl pants. They’re super roomy and rather flattering. And amen to the rest.

AmandaOleson
AmandaOleson
4 years 8 months ago

@MSchechter Yeah. Big girl pants are SUPER awesome.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 8 months ago

@SocialMediaDDS There are going to be adjustments on all sides, hopefully we can stop reacting in this manner. Sometimes it seems as if people just wait for these kinds of slip ups to have their moment in the sun… it’s a shame. I like the idea of maturing at different rates, btw. Hopefully all of this will eventually work its way out of grade school and we can all stop worrying about who’s the biggest and most powerful.

mdbarber
4 years 8 months ago
What a great post @MSchechter . Social media seems to have given us an excuse to be negative and to tear others (people or companies) in ways we would not have done in the past. Add to that the desire to be the FIRST person to tear something down and we rant before we’ve even checked the facts. I hope that we can find a way to slow down, take a breath and think about others before we take to the social media – or traditional — airwaves. Otherwise, why would anyone go out with a gutsy stand on anything… Read more »
Erin F.
4 years 8 months ago

@MSchechter That is a hard reality, albeit a true one. Perhaps the influencers need to be taken to task a little more often? Okay, maybe not…they’re much more fluent in social than I am and possibly ever will be. I don’t need to be making enemies just yet. 😉

trontastic
trontastic
4 years 8 months ago
I think I’m going to register the domain FUFUragu.com and make sure everyone knows that the original FURagu.com was a bit much. One of the biggest hurdles while trying to educate a brand (or herd kittens as it often feels like) on digital is that just because you can do something at the speed of light, doesn’t mean you should. Just as you said, taking the time to test, LISTEN (if you haven’t, go read today’s earlier post from Gini) and make adjustments. I think Ragu could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they had taken a step… Read more »
Erin F.
4 years 8 months ago

@MSchechter@rustyspeidel I read the first post and the third one but skipped the second one that offered suggestions. Chapman seemed a little calmer in the final post, but it seemed to be given in a “Farewell, Ragu, you’re toast” sort of manner. He said Ragu would be included as an example of social media failure in future presentations.

trontastic
trontastic
4 years 8 months ago

While I agree for the most part, a blog post on how Ragu messed up would have gained respect, gotten his point across and everyone would have left the situation a better person. Sure, he had every right to respond, I think he just took it too far. @Chris McNamara

trontastic
trontastic
4 years 8 months ago

maybe we should @MSchechter @Lisa Gerber

trontastic
trontastic
4 years 8 months ago

all post @MSchechter @Lisa Gerber

trontastic
trontastic
4 years 8 months ago

Two word comments to increase his comment numbers? :0 @MSchechter @Lisa Gerber

NancyD68
4 years 8 months ago
I just want to know who at Ragu thought this was a good idea. This is as bad as Marie Callender’s and not telling the dinner guest of the “switcheroo” I bet they tweeted at these Dad’s just by going on Klout scores. Does anyone ever do research or outreach anymore? I can understand why CC got so pissed. He does all the cooking and shopping in his family from what I have read. I would be offended too. Would I go that far? I really don’t know and neither do you until that situation arises in your life. I… Read more »
susanoakes
susanoakes
4 years 8 months ago

What you have written makes a lot of sense Michael. We forget that there are human beings working on brands and that means sometimes we get things wrong. Nobody is perfect and by calling this out as you mentioned could cost someone their job and is that worth it? I also noticed in his last post a brand manager had put in a call. My 2 cents worth is it should have been the Marketing Director or Head of Marketing as they would be better placed to have a discussion with CC.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@JayDolan I have high hopes for you…don’t disappoint me!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@JayDolan I have high hopes for you…don’t disappoint me!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@JayDolan I have high hopes for you…don’t disappoint me!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago
I just looked – FUMichaelSchechter is available. I’m going to buy it. Then I’m going to have some real fun! The biggest issue I have with this campaign is not in the video (which was terrible) or in the complete disregard of the audience or in how the blogosphere handled those two things. But in how Ragu tweeted their video link to those people they considered highly influential for their campaign. I wish we had a screen grab of it, but the entire page was filled with: @twitterhandle Do you cook with your kids? Check out our video … bit.ly… Read more »
TomOB
TomOB
4 years 8 months ago

@the_gman @nittygriddyblog @ginidietrich non of this will impact Ragu sales at all! #SMTempest

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem
4 years 8 months ago

Michael, I had missed this particular story, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

I think you’re quite generous/kind to ask bloggers not to rail on brands that misstep. Personally, I’m tired of agencies that – that position themselves as knowing social media and then they do something like @ reply a bunch of people on Twitter, WTHHHHHHH (that’s how teenagers do emphasis, btw, I think it’s hilarious). I’m still appalled by that, to say nothing of the whole “let’s leverage a tired stereotype to be clever.” I think I need to lie down, or blow the vuvuzela.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 8 months ago

@ginidietrich FUMichaelschechter? That is hilarious.

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