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Got a number of emails responding to last week’s story about how ConAgra got a lesson in 21st century transparency recently, according to a piece in the New York Times, when it sponsored a dinner for New York area bloggers.

The bloggers received invitations to dinner at a Manhattan brownstone, and were promised that they would enjoy a “delicious four course meal,” sangria made by TV chef George Duran, an education in food industry trends from “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, and “an unexpected surprise.”

The surprise, as it turned out, was that the lasagna served was “Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra Foods,” the Times writes. “Hidden cameras at the dinners, which were orchestrated by the Ketchum public relations unit of the Omnicom Group, captured reactions to the lasagna and to the dessert, Razzleberry Pie, also from Marie Callender’s.”

The story notes that this kind of scheme had been done before, by companies such as Pizza Hut that used the results for commercials. But the difference was that those events were attended by regular consumers - not by bloggers who see themselves as journalists, some of whom reacted angrily and publicly to what they viewed as a deception.

I commented:

The ConAgra situation points out a 21st century reality -if you do something that people see as deceptive or dishonest, the odds are that it will become very public very quickly.

In some ways, it’s too bad. You have to be so careful about such things that it is almost inevitable that innovation could be stifled, because a failed effort could become as public as a success.

And while I probably would have not been amused had I traveled into NYC for what turned out to be a warmed up lasagna dinner, I’m sympathetic to ConAgra, its agency, and to Phil Lempert. (Full disclosure: Phil is an old friend of mine, and I wrote for “Supermarket Guru” for a number of years.) The blogging world remains new territory, and it hasn’t been fully mapped out yet ... which means that it is a lot more likely that people may stumble along the way. They weren’t doing anything malicious. They just misjudged the audience. That happens.

One MNB user wrote:

On the issue of ConAgra’s fail—or actually their PR firm’s fail—I think the one thing that is being overlooked here is that these folks were invited to an event and promised a chef’s dinner. I too would be quite peeved if I got all dressed up and went to a special place for a special event and found out I was the target of a publicity stunt.

It’s one thing to do a “taste test” at a supermarket..or even to tell a diner in an Italian restaurant that they have been enjoying Pizza Hut pizza.  But a bait and switch for a “special event”…hello?

But another MNB user wrote:

To me, the real eye opener of this piece was the elitism put on display by the bloggers.  I haven’t taken the time to read the whole Times piece so I don’t know if they paid for the meal or not.  If not, then on what grounds are they complaining?  If they disliked the food then so be it…but for those who may have enjoyed it, why is it so hard for folks to make that leap and admit it after they’re told it was a frozen entrée?  It brought me back to one of the closing scenes of the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille in which the food critic finally finds it within himself to admit that while not everyone can cook, greatness can come from anywhere.

He wasn’t the only one who felt that way:

Interesting experiment by ConAgra, Kevin.  What is striking, I think, is the fact that the deceived bloggers reacted negatively to the dinner AFTER finding out what was served.  Did they feel slighted because it was frozen?  Or were they embarrassed because they thought the food was decent?  Heaven forbid the "blogger snobs" (my terminology) feast on what the commoners eat!! 

On another subject - and a familiar one to MNB readers, Sam Copeland wrote:

I wish I had something a little more retail-oriented to respond about, but I think it is worth mentioning that it appears Delta has followed United and created their own message from the CEO to precede the safety video.  Delta has been doing a lot of testing of various videos lately Within the last 6 months Delta changed up the video to highlight current Delta employees which resulted in them casting who is being referred to as “Deltalina,” a not-so-clever reference to Angelina Jolie due to her stunning good looks, to lead passengers “through the safety features of this [insert plane here].” A month or two ago Delta featured a 20 second commercial for Lincoln or Chrysler or some auto maker prior to the safety video.

The new CEO video, which I believe started within the last few weeks (I travel every week, but make a habit of falling asleep before the plane takes off so I may have missed a couple, whoops), is a message from now CEO Richard Anderson where he babbles about being fortunate enough to sit at the founders desk every day and being so proud to run a company founded on integrity, respect and keeping passengers safe. The end.  That is the message.  It in no way actually communicates any value whatsoever to passengers.  I actually found myself wishing he would tell me they were painting planes or doing anything for that matter! When your slogan is “building a better airline, not just a bigger one” it would be great if you kept that message front and center by explaining how you are continuing to do that even years after the NWA acquisition. No video would have been better than one demonstrating that the CEO doesn’t know how to create value-added communication that will connect and resonate with customers.

Last Friday, MNB took note of how the president of Domino’s Pizza in Japan, Scott K. Oelkers, has announced support for a $21 billion plan to build the first pizza restaurant on the moon.

My headline: Fly Me To The Moon, Says Japanese Pizza CEO

But one MNB user suggested that I sued the wrong song, and that I should have had the following line:

When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Big-A Pizza Pie

He is so right. I cannot believe I missed that one.

And another MNB user wrote:

The Dominos on the Moon will surely fail...good pizza, bad atmosphere.

Another joke I missed.

KC's View: