ConAgra Forced to Apologize for Tricking Bloggers Into Eating ConAgra Food

Food conglomerate ConAgra, maker of all remaining food, hired the PR firm Ketchum for a fun promotional stunt: it would invite a bunch of food bloggers to a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant, then reveal that they'd actually been served frozen ConAgra food-like products instead of real food. Mirth and delight would ensue! Alas, ConAgra and Ketchum should have watched the old Chris Farley skit more closely.

Andrew Adam Newman reports that instead of falling into line and posting lengthy raves about how the frozen Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender's tasted just like the lasagna that their grandmothers (all of whom came from The Old Country) used to make, at least some of the bloggers posted angry rants about being tricked into eating shitty frozen ConAgra food-like products without their knowledge. This passes for a big controversy, in food blogger circles. Now ConAgra is backpedaling and Ketchum is making apologetic sounds and even the mighty PR industry trade association is commenting, weakly!

In an e-mail message, [Deborah A. Silverman, who heads the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards at the Public Relations Society of America] added, "Ketchum has an excellent reputation for high ethical standards," but "the social media realm (including bloggers) is new territory for public relations practitioners, and I view this as a valuable learning opportunity."

It's funny because every part of that statement from the head of the Board of Ethics is a lie! Ketchum does not have an excellent reputation for high ethical standards—it famously became mired in a scandal after it was revealed it had paid commentators to promote government propaganda, illegally. And hell, "the social media realm" is anything but "new territory" for PR people; I was writing endless stories for PRWeek Magazine about Twitter and Facebook and blogger relations every god damn week, five years ago. Stories frequently quoting Ketchum employees! And PRSA spokespersons!

Ethics, tasty and delicious!

[NYT]