Lessons to be learned from ConAgra/Ketchum’s Sotto Terra blogger event

by Susan Getgood on September 7, 2011 · 1 comment

in Blogger relations,Blogging,Ethics

I’m back! You had to know I would not be able to resist commenting on the ConAgra/Ketchum “Sotto Terra” blogger events in New York last month that went so horribly, tragically wrong. So wrong that the fallout made it to the pages of the New York Times. Ouch.

I’m not going to rehash the details here, because this post is not about piling it on. The company, brand and agency have been thoroughly schooled in the blogosphere already. Instead, I am going to focus on a few lessons that have nothing to do with the specific brand, that anyone involved in blogger outreach can learn from.

However, this post will make more sense if you know the basics about the ConAgra program. Short version: blogger event in New York. Promoted as an exclusive opportunity to experience a chef-prepared meal. On the day, entree and dessert revealed to be frozen meals. Ooops.

For more details,  please take a moment to read the NYT article and the links below to read the blog fallout after the event.

Lesson Number 1: Don’t fall so in love with your great, clever idea that you can’t see its flaws. Every idea has flaws; every message, detractors. You have got to be willing to be your own devil’s advocate. Ask yourself — what can go wrong? Where can this idea fail? Who might not like our idea and why?  I’m not saying be Debbie Downer on your own creativity. I am however advising you to think it through. Understand that there will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like your concept. The question is, are they outliers or your target? If your target audience ain’t gonna like it, don’t do it. That’s what happened with MotrinMoms a few years ago, and it’s clearly part of what happened here.

Poke holes in your own idea. Better you than a bunch of bloggers and the New York Times.

Lesson Number 2: People don’t like surprises. Especially when they make them feel foolish. Think about it. If you are old enough to remember Candid Camera, you’ll know what I mean. The audience of the stunts enjoyed them. The victim, not so much.

More proof? Ever read the back page of a book before deciding whether to invest the time? Ever visit a spoiler site for your favorite TV show for a sneak peek at what’s coming? Ever shake your holiday or birthday presents? Or try to sneak a corner of the tape off and then rewrap it? Yes, brother dear, I am talking to you. Or ransack your mom’s gift closet to see if there’s anything new there? My son did this.

People want to know what to expect. We like to be prepared. In fact, recent research from UC  San Diego suggests that knowing the ending of a book increases our enjoyment.

And we don’t like to be embarrassed.  It is really bad form to embarrass your customers.

Remember this when planning your blogger programs. Building around a big “reveal” is a dicey proposition, and if the reveal might disappoint instead of enchant? Seriously. Go back to the drawing board. Create something that will appeal to your target audience without deception. It may not be as alluring or sexy, but it’s far less likely to backfire. The Sotto Terra backlash was not “bloggers gone wild” by any means. It was people feeling betrayed and deceived. Not a good way to build a relationship.

Lesson Number 3: Disclosure. Do not do programs without disclosing your brand’s participation. EVER! Strictly speaking, I don’t think the Sotto Terra event violates the FTC disclosure guidelines, as full disclosure of the brand’s involvement was provided when the exchange of value (the meal) happened. However, I am not crazy about the ethics here. Bloggers were encouraged to promote an event as a prize, apparently without full information about the sponsor of the event. Could the bloggers have done a little research and learned that the two hosts were ConAgra consultants? Sure. But they shouldn’t have to. That’s your job as the sponsor.

What did you take away from the Sotto Terra story? Please stay away from brand-bashing. I want to focus on what brands, and bloggers, can do better to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes, not on pointing fingers or trashing the participants in this tale.

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{ 1 comment }

1 Suebob September 8, 2011 at 7:55 am

I think this is what happens when you start to believe your own hype. “These frozen meals are SO GOOD that no one will believe they’re not handmade by a chef!” If there isn’t anyone in the room willing to point out that may not be true, you can build a whole terrible, awful idea around your misplaced assumption.

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