This is not a new marketing stunt at all: leading people into thinking that they are trying one thing when in fact they are trying another and then capturing them on tape. Remember when Folger's replaced the coffee in a high end restaurant with their instant coffee and filmed people's reactions for a television commercial? This is not a new trick.
But what makes it all very new is social media and the ability to instantly report how the stunt made you feel. Folgers didn't have to worry about that!
The folks at Con Agra who market Marie Callender's lasagna certainly found that out. They invited a group of very influential food bloggers to a meal at a hot Manhattan location with a hot chef to supposedly enjoy one of his meals. Turns out that the lasagna served was actually a frozen meal from Marie Callender's and they were being secretly taped to view their reactions.
Many of the bloggers were not happy, and they made that very clear in their blogs and in their tweets. They talked about being tricked into eating "processed" food when in fact they thought they were eating something "fresh." They talked about having to "waste" their calories on food that they did not choose to eat. They talked about being "deceived".
The problem is that as a brand, you want to cultivate a relationship with these kinds of influencers and engage them with your marketing initiatives so that they will support you throughout their vast networks. Some of these bloggers have become as important to marketing a brand as traditional advertising. Maybe more. You don't want to upset them.
Whoops. Not the first to make a mistake with social media, that's for sure, and certainly not the last. But this one hurt, I am sure. The brand and the PR agency have been getting a lot of heat, but for me I doubt that any of this was malicious. I'm sure that they thought they were doing something clever and I am sure that they thought that the bloggers would get a kick out of the joke. Turns out their judgement was wrong and now they are dealing with the social media result of that.
I always say that marketing is a spectator sport ... let's learn from each other. Good and bad.
What do you think ... what's your experience? Jim.
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect