Dining on Deceit: PR Stunt Backfires for ConAgra

LasagnaFood and family bloggers across New York received invitations from celebrity TV chef George Duran to attend an exclusive meal at an intimate underground Italian restaurant that had just popped up in the Village called Sotto Terra. The invitation promised "a delicious four-course meal," the Chef's "one-of-a-kind sangria," a discussion about food trends from a food industry analyst and "an unexpected surprise." Upon confirming attendance, bloggers got extra tickets to give away to their readers. But instead of a fresh Italian meal prepared by Duran, diners were quietly served Marie Callender's Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna, a frozen food line produced by ConAgra.

Hidden cameras captured what was supposed to be the bloggers' delighted reaction to the meal and dessert of Razzleberry Pie (another frozen Marie Callender's specialty). But the stunt backfired after bloggers found out the truth. One wrote, "Our entire meal was a SHAM! ... 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." Another blogger, who writes about her dissatisfaction with artificial ingredients and her food coloring allergy, wrote that she was fed "the exact thing I said I did not want to eat." Another complained about the meal's extraordinarily high sodium content. As negative comments piled up on blogs and websites like Facebook and Twitter, Con Agra canceled the final dinner and promised not to use the hidden camera footage of the meal for promotional purposes. The stunt was set up for ConAgra by Ketchum public relations, a unit of the Omnicom Group. Other ConAgra brands include Chef Boyardee, Hunt's Ketchup, Hebrew National hotdogs, Reddi-Whip, Slim Jims and Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn.