Back in the day – meaning 4 years ago – many people considered bloggers to be hobbyists if they considered bloggers at all. Now that bloggers are thought of as key to any product release or brand announcement, it is high time for publicists and marketers to not underestimate them. Without a doubt, there are many who have understood and appreciated who bloggers are and what they bring to the table for years, but this article in the New York Times by Andrew Adam Newman highlights a disconnect.
Just the title of the article Bloggers Don’t Follow the Script, to ConAgra’s Chagrin brings up a major issue, but we’ll get to that later. In essence, the article covers how ConAgra’s Marie Callender brand tried to pull one over on food and mom bloggers to announce a new frozen dinner product. They pitched the event as an exclusive dinner prepared by celebrity chef, George Duran, with a discussion led by food industry analyst, Phil Lempert. They then set up hidden cameras to capture diners’ (bloggers) responses as they ate the frozen lasagna instead. It was something we’ve seen before in the Pizza Hut pasta spots showing the same set-up (only with the general public), but the issues aren’t even related to the lack of originality.
Ultimately, ConAgra and their PR agency, Ketchum, had to do a mea culpa due to the adverse affect on some bloggers and even cancelled the fifth of five scheduled nights due to the negative comments on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. In this case, the comment that “most attendees had a fun evening” with completed surveys indicating that 62.5% had a favorable impression of Marie Callender is grabbing for straws at best.
The lessons from this are many and varied:
- First off, when working with bloggers, honesty and trust are key. Don’t pitch “insider” status and then dupe them by making them feel like outsiders. That was probably the most egregious error.
- There are far too many bloggers who are educated journalists to think of them as yokels or hobbyists. Even thinking of Mommy Bloggers as stay at home moms blogging to take up time is completely off-base.
- If you thought enough of the blogger to invite them to an event, they’ve got to have some influence with their readers – and with that a considerable amount of trust. To offer any sense less than trust will not bode well for your brand or product.
- You have to have a very special (hip, cool, highly sought) brand or product to think your product has a chance of being shown in a positive light by bloggers who were duped. There have been examples of bloggers and key influencers taken for a ride on events surrounding films, technology or hot brands where the reception was positive, but you’ve really got to know that your brand is one of those who can pull it off.
- Have a realistic expectation of your product and manage the event to highlight your product. Bloggers understand that it’s all spin and will make their own decisions about the product, but don’t have a pre-meal discussion where topics like healthy eating, fresh foods or aversions to artificial ingredients like this example when you know your product flies in the face of those concerns.
- Know that if you have a bad experience with the regular public, it’s not the same as when you have one with a blogger. While you can’t control what a blogger says, let your product do your talking. Don’t set yourself up to have the blogger talk adversely about something outside of what the product actually is. And don’t fool yourself that a majority of attendees having fun makes a program a success – unless you only had one attendee. in this case, there’s probably many less expensive ways to provide “fun” for potential attendees.
- And finally, if you should run into an issue like this – which is inevitable – be real. Show that you know your stuff. Don’t add lies on top of lies by trying to minimize the response to your program. I usually don’t get pointed on this blog, but I was taken with the comment about the event’s aim from ConAgra’s PR rep – “Our intention was to really have a special evening in a special location with Chef George Duran.” Their intention was to generate buzz about their product by leveraging a celebrity chef and an arguably engaging event. Again, there’s already a sour taste, don’t ask the offended to clear the taste away with a swig of salt water.
Going back to the title of the article, Bloggers Don’t Follow Script, this really extends how bloggers (and the general public) are misunderstood by publicists and marketers. We are foolish to think we can dictate how people will act or respond to our brands. If the script were available, its writer would be immensely wealthy. All we can do is set up situations where bloggers/consumers/whatever can comfortably be a part of the brand’s or product’s narrative.
While there is always a modicum of positioning and spin in the traditional publicity and media realm, the new world of bloggers and social media is more challenging to manipulate. Keep that egg off your face – don’t underestimate bloggers.