A few weeks ago, a select number of food bloggers were invited to take part in a special event hosted by celebrity chef George Duran. The event was to feature a “a delicious four course meal” at an exclusive, underground Italian restaurant. They would talk about food trends, sample good wines, and though it wasn’t mentioned, promote a new product.
Bloggers aren’t dumb. Everyone who accepted the invitation knew that it was for PR purposes and they all expected a pitch. What they didn’t expect was a bait and switch and their reactions captured on hidden cameras.
The entire stunt was to promote Marie Callender’s frozen dinners. The bloggers, after talking extensively about fresh ingredients, natural foods and even food allergies, were served boxed lasagna and pie.
The author of FoodMayhem.com had this to say on his blog:
“I told you first hand of our focus on wholesome food, particularly with our baby in tow. We both said to you, with 20+ witnesses and apparently hidden cameras, how much we despise over-processed foods and artificial ingredients. We discussed with the group the sad state of chemical-filled foods and discussed various chains. And yet, you still fed me the exact thing I said I did not want to eat.”
Obviously, the PR company was hoping to capture the happy reaction of diners who thoroughly enjoyed what they thought was a meal prepared by a four-star chef. Others have done it, we’ve seen the results on TV. But in this case, the bloggers who spoke about the event said that the food, while good for a frozen meal, wasn’t anything to rave about. They also couldn’t understand why the PR company would direct the conversation toward wholesome, additive-free dining, before serving a chemical-laden meal.
Says Chubby Chinese Girl:
I’m NOT their target consumer and they were totally off by thinking I would buy or promote their highly processed frozen foods after tricking me to taste it. I’m not saying I ONLY eat/write about healthy and organic foods, but what unhealthy stuff I choose to eat/write, at least I was aware of it and it was my decision to do so.
If that wasn’t insult enough, the bloggers were appalled to find out that they were being secretly taped and at least a couple refused to sign the waiver after the reveal.
A follow-up by the New York Times, says that the PR company had a highly favorable response rate to the food and that most of the guests had “fun.” The bloggers countered, saying that at the time, they were reluctant to express their distaste for the food so as not to insult their celebrity chef host.
The moral of this story is, be honest with the people you want on your side. Instead of trying to trick healthy foodies into eating a product they wouldn’t ever buy, they should have brought in bloggers with busy families and frugal lifestyles — in other words, their target audience.
I will admit that there was one time when I was tricked and didn’t mind. The PR party was for the TV show Leverage and the party goers were conned in order to show how easily it can be done. Bravo to that PR company, boo hiss to those behind the Marie Callender stunt.