Food Bloggers Fooled, Flabbergasted by ConAgra PR Stunt

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The New York Times today has a story that's riling the food blogosphere: A group of food (and mommy) bloggers say food behemoth ConAgra and the PR agency Ketchum concocted a fake underground restaurant from celebrity chef George Duran to trick them into sampling new Marie Callender's-brand items. Hidden cameras captured their reactions to the big reveal.

But while consumers tend to laugh along with the [hidden-camera] ruse, ConAgra was about to learn that bloggers, who often see themselves as truth-seeking journalists, find the switcheroo less amusing, especially when it entails them misleading their readers beforehand.

"Our entire meal was a SHAM!" wrote Suzanne Chan, founder of Mom Confessionals, in a blog post after the event. "We were unwilling participants in a bait-and-switch for Marie Callender's new frozen three cheese lasagna and there were cameras watching our reactions."
The PR agency issued an apology -- actually one of those non-apology apologies: "...we apologize that they felt [disappointed]" -- and none of the hidden-camera footage will be used in advertisements for the Marie Callender's products.

I suppose some of the flabbergasted food bloggers' fury is overstated -- you get what you paid for; there's no such thing as a free lunch; and other platitudes ad infinitum -- but you really have to wonder what ConAgra and Ketchum were thinking, assuming that none of the bloggers they invited to this stunt would, oh, I don't know, express their displeasure on their blog.

Though, frankly, I'm surprised that none of the bloggers became suspicious when they were invited to an underground Italian restaurant called Sotto Terra, Italian for "underground." Come on, Ketchum, your creative team couldn't have tried to come up with a slightly more mysterious name?

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