Are bloggers over-reacting to the Ragu social media “crisis”?

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week (and apparently, I was until last Friday, because I hadn’t seen this until then), there was some controversy surrounding Ragu and Dad bloggers and other marketing bloggers online.

As background, Ragu published the video below featuring three mommy bloggers talking about what happens when Dad cooks at night. Some of the opinions of these Moms were fairly serious, and some were light-hearted. In the end, it’s a good-natured discussion about what happens when Dad cooks at night (and I’m guessing most Moms that watched this video were nodding their heads and chuckling a bit).

To “merchandise” the video a bit more, Ragu then tweeted a link to the video at various Dad bloggers. I’m guessing the hope was they’d watch, share and possibly even blog about it.

And boy, did they share and post. Just not the kind of posts they probably wanted.

Notable marketing blogger (and Dad blogger), C.C. Chapman wrote numerous posts about the ordeal. First, his initial rant. Then a subsequent follow up, offering advice to the brand. Then, a final loop-closer after he had chatted with reps from Unilever and the agency that represents them.

Adam Singer jumped in as well. And, take a look at the comments from hist post. A number of heavy hitters agreeing with C.C. and Adam.

And, Jason Falls weighed in with Aaron Perlut in this video that’s part of the duo’s Two On Two series for

Note: In the spirit of transparency, Adam Singer and Jason Falls are both fellas I’d calls friends and I don’t mean for this post to come off as a personal attack on them–or C.C.

And, they were far from the only ones. Here’s just a couple of the hundreds of others who were piling on last week.

All the bloggers mentioned above made valid points. Points I would have made, if I had seen this interplay earlier last week. And, at the end of the day, they were voicing their opinions and analyzing the situation at hand–after all, that’s what bloggers do.

But as I reviewed these posts and tweets from last week. The reactions. The finger-pointing. The name-calling. I had a few reactions of my own.

Are these bloggers simply over-reacting?

I hate to say it, but I think they are. Just take a look at the posts and tweets. In fact, take a look at Chapman’s tweets below: one using a #FURago hash tag (even if it was tongue in cheek). Or, what about Adam’s line: “But who cares about people when the sauce is fulfilling his master plan to pit Dads against Moms in the kitchen. Because …their brand experts have decided this is how we sell more sauce!” To be clear, I’m not defending Ragu’s actions–clearly, they were in the wrong. I’m agreeing with Chapman, Falls, Perlut and Singer on the analysis side. I’m just wondering if Ragu’s actions really warranted the kinds of actions (posts, tweets, etc.) we saw last week from some of these bloggers.

Isn’t it time we start giving brands/agencies a little break?

We’ve come a long ways since Motrin Moms. Brands and agencies are smarter now. But, they still make mistakes, as we can see. Should they be called out every time they make a mistake? I don’t think so. At least not this aggressively. In this case, Chapman said in his initial rant: “Whoever your agency is that told you this was a good idea should be fired because they are doing things for you that snake oil salesman are selling companies on every day and you’ve written the check for it.” Pretty harsh, right? If that’s not enough, think about it this way: How long will it be before you or your agency makes a similar mistake? Don’t be arrogant enough to believe you or your agency won’t make a mis-step at some point.

Bloggers take thing personally. Very personally.

Who am I to really say how C.C. Chapman should feel? I’m really in no position to tell him what he should or should not feel. But, the larger lesson here for brands is bloggers take their blogs–and the topics they write about–extremely personally. Chapman is a Dad. He’s also a marketer. And, a blogger. And he’s pretty damn passionate about all three. I mean, the guy wrote not one. Not two. But THREE posts about this single experience (er, tweet/pitch). I’d say he’s pretty heavily invested. I’m not condoning Chapman’s reaction (like I said above, I think he, along with many others, are over-reacting a bit here), but if you’re going to interact with bloggers about the topics they care about, you better be ready for some emotion. That’s the bottom line.

It’s a small town.

The theory I started adopting not too long ago regarding the popular “brand bashing” in posts is this: It’s a small town out there. Rip Kenneth Cole for their Twitter play today–you might get passed over for an RFP down the road. Start jumping on the Ragu-bashing bandwagon? Good luck applying for a job at the agency that represents them in a couple years. I don’t know, call me naive, but I just don’t think there’s a lot of value in all this brand bashing. I’m all for learning from mistakes–I just don’t think we need to aggressively pounce on every little mistake brands make online anymore.

Feels a lot like talk radio, doesn’t it?

So, why did this seemingly benign issue kick up so much dust? Start by looking at the landscape. There’s a huge need for constant blog content–especially among these folks who essentially get paid to weigh in on issues routinely. I’m not casting dispersions here–heck, in many ways, I fall in the same bucket. But, in many ways, it feels like talk radio, doesn’t it? Take your local sports talk radio channel, for example. They have 24 hours a day they need to fill with content about sports. What do they talk about for 24 hours? Is there that much really happening in the world of sports on a day-to-day basis? Of course not. Same goes with digital marketing. But, as bloggers, we fill the time because we feel like we have to. I don’t know–these posts feel a little like “filling the time” to me.

Look, I’ll say it again, I’m not disagreeing with Chapman, Falls, Perlut or Singer here on the analysis side. I think we can all agree Ragu could have handled things differently. No question. But, it’s the attack mentality and degree of reaction that I have a growing problem with. That’s the issue for me with this case study. Did Ragu learn a lesson? Yeah, I would think so. Do they deserve to be condemned the villainized for that mistake–not just now, but for months and years to come (as Chapman noted in his tweet about upcoming prezos, as did a few others including Scott Stratten). I don’t think so.

What do you think? Did Chapman, Singer (and Perlut and Falls to an extent) over-react a bit? Or, maybe I’m the one who’s over-over-reacting. Wouldn’t be the first time, that’s for sure.

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85 comments on “Are bloggers over-reacting to the Ragu social media “crisis”?

  1. Nonmouse says:

    Well, I’ve been hiding under that rock, too- the first I heard of the “Ragu Controversy” was in an email from DadLabs saying that they’re going to be discussing it on their webcast this week. This blog was one of the top results on Google.

    Having seen the ad in question, I have to agree with CC et al that it’s a thoroughly insulting, cliché-ridden travesty of an ad campaign. I _don’t_ think that they’re over-reacting- first off, because I’m a dad myself, and I do 90%+ of the cooking in our household. My wife can cook moderately well, but she very rarely does so. If I want, or want my daughter to have, something other than canned ravioli, I have to do the cooking.

    Secondly, and more germane to the discussion, to have any effect through the web or social media it _requires_ that you be a little over the top, to make more _noise_ than would be polite in a tête-à-tête setting. If CC had just written a quiet, milquetoast post noting that he disagreed with the video, Ragú would never have paid any attention to it, assuming they even saw it.

    CC also makes the point, several times, that what really bothered him was the sloppiness and unprofessionallism of the viral ad campaign. I really don’t see it as an over-reaction to feel passionately about subjects that engage both your work and home life.

  2. DaveAtNORTH says:

    I have two thoughts: 1. It’s a typically bad advertising campaign for a run-of-the-mill, bland product. 2. Bloggers should get over themselves. I find it rather incredible that we can waste so much time and energy on something as mundane as this in 2011. I’m a dad and a pretty good cook, you should see me wrangle steaks on my Big Green Egg, but I didn’t find this offensive in anyway.

    As someone else commented “it feels like Talk Radio” then if that’s the way we want to take the social web then it will be to the detriment of all of us…

    Anyway, I’m off to cook dinner for my family..

  3. arikhanson says:

    @Nonmouse Fair points. And, at the end of the day, this is all opinion. CC reacted. And no one can tell him what or how to feel. But clearly, Ragu has struck a chord with the Dad audience (I’m a Dad too, btw, but wasn’t as offended as you and CC were by the video–the pitch strategy, that’s a different story ;). And your point about the Web lending itself to more pointed opinions is well taken–Adam was making a similar comment here somewhere. Thanks for weighing in and for the good thoughts.

  4. arikhanson says:

    @adamsinger@Ari Herzog Adam’s right. Far from over. At this point, all we can hope is that Ragu learned from the experience.

  5. arikhanson says:

    @ginidietrich Your thoughts?

  6. arikhanson says:

    @Marc_Meyer This is a dividing issue. Good points on both sides.

  7. ElissaFreeman says:

    @arikhanson@ellerylong I agree re over-reaction. Firstly, I hadn’t heard of the Ra-goof (thanks for that one @jgoldsborough!) so allow me to climb from beneath my rock. But really people? Feeling a little sensitive about your cooking skills? Good grief. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen! Use your social media platform for issues that have true resonance and really matter. Also, have we thought about how brand-goofs such as these actually build the profiles of those who scream/tweet loudest? This is a two-way street my friends…

  8. @arikhanson Interesting post and even more interesting POVs in the comment section so far. I was one of the people, who also called out Ragu for their lazy marketing last week. Let me make it clear. I don’t have a problem for how they targeted the campaign. I’m sure they had great reasons for it, and did plenty of research to back it up. However, I do have a problem with how poorly it was executed. Spamming out replies with verbatim content and links to well-known dad bloggers, who they clearly didn’t have a relationship with before, is just lazy marketing. It didn’t help that Ragu didn’t offer a public apology or respond until three days later. It just added more fuel to the fire.

    Guess what? Social media moves fast, and can be cruel and unforgiving to those brands who screwed up. Ragu deserves to be called out (by these dad bloggers) for their poor execution. Do I think that many bloggers went overboard with their rants? Maybe. (I mean buying, and linking it to your rants is a bit petty and extreme). It’s also illustrates a somewhat overlooked part of social media. You expose yourself to the good, the bad and the really ugly when you screw up (or when people think you screwed up). This illustrates the bigger issue that all brands should be prepared for any crisises and know how to respond before they happen. But then again, that may be asking too much for a brand that didn’t even know how to pitch dad bloggers without being spammy.

  9. Ike says:

    I, for one, think the campaign is brilliant.

    A few months from now, we will hear about Ragu’s Mea Culpa — “We’ve heard you, we screwed up, and not only was our PR strategy a mistake, but our sauce was as bland as hell. Now we have a new recipe that treats our customers as the food-lovers they are, and challenge you to taste the difference.”

    And the agency that kicked up this intentional firestorm will be lauded for getting hundreds of bloggers to lay the groundwork for total brand awareness of an already-planned change for spaghetti sauce in a can.

  10. Ike says:

    Sorry. I meant to say “In a JAR.” my mistake.

  11. ikepigott says:

    @arikhanson @ginidietrich I weighed in. I have no evidence for my theory, other than I think it would be a riot to see that manipulation.

  12. CC_Chapman says:

    First off let me thank you for writing the post. You honestly lay out some great point and things that myself and others should think about before posting or saying something online. Plus, I’m a huge fan of the small town mentality. It is something I talk about often.

    As I’ve said many times maybe I did over react in the initial reaction. I regret not putting a question mark in the headline. But, it was 11:00 at night and it really upset me. When I woke up in the morning and saw all the tweets, comments and more I felt a bit bad that I had only ranted and not really said how it could have been done better. That is why as I sat at the airport waiting to come home I wrote a second post giving what I thought was some very helpful advice on how they could do better next time.

    The fact of the matter is that people by nature are passionate. We all have our hot buttons that set us off. Anything that portrays fathers as less than an equal in the parenting equation is one of my biggest ones. The piss poor marketing of this campaign to me as a dad really set me off. Forget the whole video for a moment and really focus on their strategy and tactic for reaching dads. Anyone who says they did it right doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    As I told the rep from Ragu on the phone, they’ve got to be careful when trying to take ANY campaign targeted for one audience and hope that it will cross over to another. It is a tricky thing to do and I believe they didn’t do it very smartly at all. THAT is what really got me mad. Nothing wrong with only marketing to moms, but thinking that a campaign for them will magically work for dads is very short sighted. It wouldn’t work in the other direction either.

    For years I’ve worked with companies and given tons of advice to tens of thousands of people on how to approach social media in a smart, business manner. So I take offense when I get written off as just another angry blogger. I’m not. I’m someone who makes a living in this field and happen to have an outlet called a blog where I share my thoughts. Everyone keeps focusing on the first post, but no one mentions the two follow up ones.

  13. CC_Chapman says:

    Part 2 of comment due to character limits here:

    YES I bought and I also bought because I didn’t want anyone else to take a snarky comment I made and do something vile with it. If you go to either of them now you’ll see that it points to my final post trying to help the brand do better next time. Don’t like that approach? Tough. I’m the publisher of my site and get to choose what I do with them. That is the great democracy of the Internet.

    I truly in my heart wanted this to have a happy ending. There is a million different ways that Ragu could have responded and turned this into a win for them. Saying “whoops we made a mistake and will try to do better next time” in an honest and non defensive way would have made a world of difference. But, instead they’ve constantly pointed to the articles critical of what I said, wrote a op-ed piece talking down to all of it and never really got involved in the conversation through any public channel.

    At this point they continue to dig the whole deeper in my mind. There is nothing at this point they can do to fix it with me personally. I gave them every opportunity and every time it has felt to me like they were flipping me a big middle finger.

    The fact that so many people reacted to this and yet they only comment on the ones that are critical of my reaction says a lot about them in my mind. They don’t care about the community. They don’t care about actually using social media to engage with anyone but their fans.

    Best of luck Ragu. I wish this ended better than it did. Shame on you for not caring about more than your bottom line.

  14. jenzings says:

    There are a bunch of issues here–

    1) Did bloggers “overreact”? To some extent, yes, but this is what PR/Comms bloggers do, isn’t it–not the overreacting, but examining different campaigns, how they are executed, and critiquing the process. It sort of reminds me not of talk radio, but of Trekkies who can identify errors in Klingon language and that sort of minutia, etc. Brands should put this sort of critique and examination in context–like film critics, we are examining the elegance of the execution. In this case, Ragu failed–sending Twitter spam, etc.

    2) As far as I’m concerned, I am done, done, done with the “dad is a dolt and can’t cook/do anything around the house” trope. There were shades of this in your post “Has targeting mommy bloggers become cliche?” It is overdone, annoying, and I think it’s lazy marketing. I also think that the reaction to it in this case is the result of a buildup over time, and smart marketers will take the lesson from this (one can hope): STOP belittling dads in your marketing efforts.

    3) This was a failure of research. Ragu did identify dad bloggers, sure. But Ragu should also know that foodies, like CC, who do a great deal of cooking and are passionate about it won’t be buying their HFCS-laden sauce. Between 15-30 minutes reviewing CC’s blog content would have revealed this. This is the SAME mistake that ConAgra just made: they did surface research to identify foodie bloggers, but didn’t go deeper to make sure that these were bloggers that would be receptive to processed food.

    Will it damage the brand in the long run? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that they–and others–can’t learn from this exchange.


  15. jenzings says:

    I have the same exact reaction. I am SO done with the “men are useless around the house” meme. I hate it, and think it’s lazy at best, and offensive at worst. @betweenstations

  16. jenzings says:

    Honest question: would they have even paid attention to criticism that wasn’t so harsh? Even *with* the harsh critique, they were slow to respond. Wouldn’t a more moderated response have elicited even less of a reaction? @arikhanson @jlbraaten

  17. ginidietrich says:

    @arikhanson I wasn’t going to blog about Ragu, but after reading your blog post last night, I decided to add my lessons

  18. arikhanson says:

    @jenzings Thanks for weighing in, Jen. Good thoughts. On the over-reaction front, I think there’s a difference between the over-reacting and the analysis. CC, Adam and Jason’s analysis was right on. It was just the degree of reaction I was observing.

    The “Dads as dolts” issue is clearly the big one here. CC calls it out again below, as have many other Dads in this stream. Clearly, that’s a hot-button topic/angle and if anything, through this whole deal, if Ragu and other brands learn anything, I would hope it’s to start treating Dads legitimately.

    And, you’re right on with the research angle. My take there is blogger research is tedious. And it’s something VERY few agencies/people do well. It takes a lot of digging (in this case, you’re right, reading a number of CC’s posts would have identified that). But, I think it’s an area of opportunity for agencies, too. Blogger outreach is a relatively “new science.” They’ll get better. It’s just going to take time.

  19. arikhanson says:

    @Ike Touche, Mr. Pigott. Well done.

  20. arikhanson says:

    @CC_Chapman Thanks for stopping in and sharing more of your thoughts, CC. I didn’t see anyone call you an “angry blogger” here–and I certainly hope my comments didn’t come off that way. I think your work speaks for itself, CC–you are definitely a credible voice in our field. And, for what it’s worth, I did read your second post and as I said privately to you yesterday, I thought that was your best. Also, thanks for explaining the timing of the first post a bit. That explains a lot to me. I still think you went a little over-the-top with that first post, but it gives more context around they “why.” As a blogger, I’ve been in that spot, too. A pitch or post you read sets you off. You want to react, but it’s late at night. You write the post, a little more pointed than you usually do, but you write it. Do you post it? Or, do you sit on it overnight? I think you talked about that issue in one of your posts (and even mentioned you wished you would have slept on it). That first post was also a little jarring for me, because, even though we’ve never really met, I’ve followed and read you for a while and you seem like a friendly and agreeable guy. So, the timing you explain makes sense to me. Again, thanks for comment.

  21. Ike says:

    @arikhanson Frankly, given how transparent most bloggers are about their triggers, I am surprised that this isn’t happening more often.

    The Deliberate Dustup.

  22. MediaLabRat says:

    I am a little late to the conversation here but have read all the blog posts on both sides of the issue, as well as most of the comments on those blogs. To add to the conversation, here is my take:

    -The video was more BORING that offensive to me. 3 mommy bloggers having what amounted to a reality style (read phoney), annecdotal conversation about their dinner time experiences within their families was a complete snore. If you want to provoke conversation and debate, you have to do better than that. What it had to do with Ragu except for the clumsy (and botched) mention of a Ragu chicken and potato dish at the end of the video, I don’t know.

    -Targeting and delivery aside, if they had to go with this creative (which was a complete and utter blunder), they should have used it to spark debate and conversation within their target audience (men), not offend them with it. Changing the Tweet to “Hey dads, these moms think men are no help in the kitchen…do you agree?” might have harnessed some of the same passion from C.C. and others in a positive way, which they could have then wrapped their brand message around. Sending the traffic to a YouTube and not a branded page within their site was completely LAME!

    -Regarding the use of Twitter, their targeting, and how they delivered the message, that was a fail on so many levels…no need to rehash that here.

    So I have a question for the social community that has been so vocal on this issue…what was Ragu’s (their agency, really) worse offense here: 1) The way they used Twitter for that type of message or, 2) The lame creative and message contained within? Or was it equally both? As the Co-Founder of a company that is building technology platforms to help businesses and brands use Twitter with more intelligence and relevance, I am very interested to hear some opinions on that.


  23. RonMattocks says:

    I think that in a broad sense, brands who have traditionally marketed products to moms all these years are a bit confounded as to how to reach out to dads. It’s easier for marketers to find women’s emotional touch points and build marketing campaigns around them. Trying to do this same thing with men requires a lot more thought on marketers’ parts. Plus it doesn’t help when many feel that men are going through something of an identity crisis in today’s cultural climate. We can’t be too manly, nor can we be too effeminate. How do you market to a demographic that’s not too sure how they’re supposed to feel about themselves in the first place. Despite the existence of a consensus that “daddy dolt” is not an accurate representation of today’s father, it’s an easy fallback for marketers.

    And there’s another dimension to this, that came from an article I read (and damn I wish I could find it) that looked at who exactly were the people presenting these negative male stereotypes in media. In the vast majority of the cases, they were men. What they linked it back to was adult Generation X’rs who were creating these poor images of fatherhood as a backlash from their own Baby Boomer fathers either physically abandoning them or not being emotionally available to their children because of work or other selfish pursuits. (I need to go look that article up again.)

    As to whether this was an over-reaction or not, I’ll refrain, but it is encouraging to see dads using their social media influence in a collective manner to speak out against the perpetuation of the stereotype.

    …welp! Gotta run–wife made spaghetti for dinner.

  24. arikhanson says:

    @MediaLabRat Thanks for the comment, Robert. Agree with your second comment. All they had to do was really tweak their outreach approach–would have made all the difference. Re: your third point, I think it was the pitch itself that offended CC and others. Spamming prominent bloggers via replies on Twitter isn’t normally a good idea. Add to that a video that’s actually taking shots at Dad bloggers, and you have a recipe for blowback. For me, it was more the method than the “creative.”

  25. tec4_cleveland says:

    @ElissaFreeman@arikhanson@ellerylong I don’t think it’s “you can’t cook” as much as it is the ongoing portrayal of men as poor helpless fools who couldn’t find their way around the kitchen if it wasn’t for their infinitely wiser wives. That pushes my buttons, too, and I’m not a mom (OR a dad). Ragu may ultimately discover it’s more than a tempest in a saucepan in the long run. That’s a wait and see thing. People have long memories these days, and if not, there’s always Google to remind them.

  26. tec4_cleveland says:

    @arikhanson Maybe you haven’t been as targeted? Dismissing the complaints seems to me to be a way of saying they’re not valid. I think they were, from the bloggers’ point of view. I personally would find it hard to be consistently labeled an idiot without reacting to it.@betweenstations

  27. arikhanson says:

    @tec4_cleveland@betweenstations I’m not saying CC, Adam or Jason’s comments weren’t valid. I’m merely saying I thought they were a little much considering what happened. But you’re right–who am I tell say how they should respond? I’ve noted that in the post. And, to be fair, I don’t think Ragu was labeling any of these fellas as “idiots.” The pitch and approach may have been off, but I’m quite sure that’s not how they were approaching them.

  28. RSA Course says:

    Are this Ragu social media is a big deal. Ragu’s campaign is being taken way more seriously that is was ever intended. There are too many “Social Media Sheriffs” out there ready to pounce on any slight misstep.