A Press Push for Pancakes

Four newscasts deceive their viewers with a stealth ad for Bisquick

Submitted by Daniel Price on

Betty Crocker wants you to know that flapjacks aren't just for breakfast anymore. To help spread the word, General Mills—the mega-conglomerate behind both the Betty Crocker and Bisquick brands—enlisted Medialink Worldwide to create a video news release (VNR) about the versatility of pancakes.

The 75-second fake news segment, strategically designed to coincide with National Pancake Week, featured creative new ideas for pancake dishes such as Mexican corncakes, orange toffee pancakes, banana split pancakes, and PB&J shortstacks. On the self-promotion side, the story included multiple soundbites from Bisquick's Maggie Gilbert, who plugged the company's HeartSmart line of low-fat, zero-cholesterol pancake mix and referred viewers to BettyCrocker.com for additional pancake recipes.

The VNR was distributed to newsrooms on March 1, 2006. Over the next six days, four affiliates—KYTX-19 (Tyler, TX), WBOC-16 (Salisbury, MD), WFXW-38 (Terre Haute, IN) and WILX-10 (Lansing, MI)—blended the complete and uncut VNR into their broadcasts, inserting station-branded text overlays and introducing Medialink "reporter" Mike Morris as if he were a journalist on staff. At no time did anyone at any of these newscasts reveal to viewers that the story was provided by Medialink and funded by Bisquick.

Medialink publicist Mike Morris, as he appears on the VNR (left), on WBOC-16 in Salisbury, MD (center) and on WFXW-38 in Terre Haute, IL (right).

Of the four stations, three had been previously observed incorporating fake news into their broadcasts without disclosure. KYTX-19 had participated in a satellite media tour (SMT) interview funded by Brother, Tide and three other companies, plus a VNR/SMT combination from Subway. WBOC-16 had aired complete VNRs from Siemens and General Motors. And WILX-10 had deceptively incorporated a complete VNR on Detroit's Renaissance Center, which was also sponsored by General Motors.

One fact that all four newscasts ignored: National Pancake Week was first established in 1985 by General Mills and Bisquick.

View the original VNR, as well as the WILX-10 news feature, below.