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 Forbes.com.

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. MeghanButler says:

    I totally agree with you on the small town concept. as a PR pro by day and blogger by night, i’ve learned that what the world of brands and bloggers is quite small and it’s prudent to play nice in the sandbox. I head up our blogger outreach efforts for several large consumer brands and I can certifiably say that we have black listed a few bloggers from all of our clients based on their unprofessional behavior.

    That is certainly what it is. Bloggers (including myself!) want to be treated professionally but then they act in a less-than-professional manner. It’s a total double standard.

    As a blogger, I’ve responded to several horrible pitches in a very polite way, explaining why their pitch did not resonate with me and saying that I hope we can work together in the future. Professionalism is not only a brand’s responbility – it’s a two-way street.

    Thanks for your post! Insightful as always.

    Meg

  2. I don’t think you are over reacting, but one thing that was lost is everyone is just link bating each other by using “internet famous” bloggers. I did notice many regular folks engaged in this conversation too. These folks tend to have many connections offline they chat with and have conversations with folks about this situation, that will be more damaging than the social echo-chamber.

  3. MSchechter says:

    There was a great quote from Merlin Mann the other day that sums the whole thing up… “Here’s the neat bit about America: You can think the reaction to a thing is AWFUL without thinking the thing itself was such a great idea.” It was a miss by Ragu, but everything since has seemed way out of proportion to the original misstep.

  4. rachelakay says:

    Arik,

    I’m glad you laid out what I think a lot of us were thinking. The campaign itself was lame, the distribution on social media was worse, but I agree the reaction over-the-top. I think it’s healthy to point out a brand’s mistake when it comes to marketing – as bloggers and marketing pros we all do it. But to internalize in such a way that you are insinuating that a brand actually hates you? Yikes! Calm down! For me, that kind of reaction detracts from the smart analysis I’d expect from these commentators and projects a wild oversensitivity.

    Rachel Kay

  5. JohnNemoPR says:

    First, Arik, I love that you take the “devil’s advocate” side of this and extend the conversation. Thoughtful analysis.

    I think these Bloggers responded this way to Ragu for one simple reason – because they can! Social Media has empowered consumers and give us a voice/audience that never existed before. People feel that power and aren’t afraid to use it.

    I think it all comes down to personality. Someone who is passionate/emotional like garyvee is going to have a hard-time giving the type of even-handed, what-if-it-were-my-agency type response you seem to favor. That’s just not in his DNA. Same with CC and the others.

    My initial reaction to the Ragu mess was, “How can someone be giving them such bad Social Media advice!?” For a brand that big to fail that badly, it tells you that there are still a lot of PR agencies out there who are faking it when it comes to effective Social Campaigns/Strategies. I assume Ragu picked a “big” and “well-known” agency to craft this campaign, right? Shocking to me.

    For what it’s worth I like Ragu’s sauce and will keep buying and using it. I don’t take offense as a dad who cooks to the campaign. I get it – they tried and failed. Big deal.

    But I also get the passionate reaction of people like CC and also the “Talk Radio” aspect you mention for Bloggers – you need to have passionate, dramatic content to stand out. Right? Nobody likes a vanilla approach. We want controversy and drama and passion and high stakes. Otherwise we don’t listen. So there’s probably some of that element in play too.

    Either way, great post. Love the insight and thought you put into it!

  6. arikhanson says:

    @rachelakay My thoughts exactly. Well stated.

  7. arikhanson says:

    @MSchechter Yep. Spot on. The “punishment” in this case did not fit “the crime.”

  8. arikhanson says:

    @keithprivette Don’t disagree, Keith. But CC, and a few of the others mentioned above were by far the loudest. And, I did some searching and didn’t find a whole lot more. Can you share some of the other posts you’re referring to?

  9. arikhanson says:

    @MeghanButler Great insights, Meghan. Thanks for sharing. I think bloggers forget about the two-way thing. And I’m not surprised to hear about the list. If I was advising clients in our space, there are without question a few bloggers I wouldn’t even go near–no matter what their “reach” is.

  10. arikhanson says:

    @JohnNemoPR But here’s the thing, John. How do we know what Ragu did was actually the result of the agency’s advice? Brands ignore agency counsel all the time. Do we really know what happened? No. And, that’s part of why I’m a little disappointed withe some of the finger-pointing. We don’t know. And for us to assume we do know is just irresponsible. And people wonder why folks don’t take bloggers seriously…

  11. brentrinehart says:

    Great post, Arik. I agree that bad marketing from brands should be pointed out when it exists, but I think we should handle it in civil manner. Let’s keep the focus on what brands should do, not what they shouldn’t have done.

  12. CristerDelaCruz says:

    Thank you for a well thought out post. I agree that while the campaign (Ragu, agency, or both) made some mis-steps, saying that “Ragu hates dads” was a bit over the top and even tweeted so last week. Great conversation here as well….

  13. AmandaOleson says:

    I certainly don’t agree with Ragu’s approach, and I definitely agree that the backlash has been blown way out of proportion. I mean… is a cheap spaghetti sauce something to be *this* upset about? @arikhanson, since you’re a dad, are you *super* offended by the campaign?

    Don’t get me wrong- I’m a fan of CC, and I think he’s a very smart guy. But I think his emotions really got in his way this time around. It’s one thing to be passionate about a topic, but there’s also a fine line between passion and complete lunacy.

  14. maggielmcg says:

    I totally agree–the punishment by bloggers seems to far outweigh the crime with regard to this whole Ragu thing. There seems to be a big measure of hybrid bashing/hire me to do your social media because I could do a better job too, which seems kind of disingenuous to me. Is public flogging of brands as pitch/blackmail going to be the new thing “influencers” do?

  15. maggielmcg says:

    I totally agree–the punishment by bloggers seems to far outweigh the crime with regard to this whole Ragu thing. There seems to be a big measure of hybrid bashing/hire me to do your social media because I could do a better job too, which seems kind of disingenuous to me. Is public flogging of brands as pitch/blackmail going to be the new thing “influencers” do?

  16. CristerDelaCruz says:

    @AmandaOleson “I mean… is a cheap spaghetti sauce something to be *this* upset about?” … So true. LOL!

  17. PrincessSushi says:

    @arikhanson Interesting. I guess I have been under a rock, but I do believe it was intentional on my part. Ugh. Yes to overreaction.

  18. jlbraaten says:

    The amount of backlash against Ragu is probably a little overblown, but it’s what happens if a brand happens to ignite a powder keg issue.

    People have to realize this isn’t about just Ragu. It’s about dads everywhere being portrayed as the absent and/or incompetent parent.

    Men have been portrayed as the dopey dad that doesn’t know how to cook, clean or be helpful around the house/raising their kids for as long as I remember. For Ragu to reinforce that gender role through their campaign is one thing, and perhaps forgivable. But to then shop it around to dad bloggers hoping to get them to spread it? That was what got CC going.

    Netflix was the same thing. It wasn’t about a company raising their prices. It was about a “social business” built on trust, authenticity and transparency and how it gave up those things and sold out to become just another service provider.

    Yeah, perhaps Ragu didn’t deserve the full brunt of the backlash, but a good pummeling by bloggers should make companies think twice about how they market to parents, both moms AND dads.

  19. arikhanson says:

    @maggielmcg I think we already passed that point a while ago, Maggie. I do think there’s a right way to go about it though. If Chapman would have only published his second post. I think that would have been fine (liked that post). It’s the first one that was a little too far out there for me.

  20. arikhanson says:

    @jlbraaten Like I said up top, it’s the degree of the backlash I have a problem with. This just didn’t warrant what happened–dopey Dad issue or not. The strategy was suspect, I just don’t think it warranted people calling the agency out (see my comment below–do we even know the agency was at fault here?). I’m not so much talking about the Dad issue–I’m just talking about the blogger-calling-out-every-brand-that-makes-a-mistake issue.

  21. betweenstations says:

    I would argue that the Ragu campaign is a symptom of a greater whole, and they’re getting pummeled in part for being clumsy in their approach. All you have to do is watch some daytime TV and the whole “men are dopey/helpless/childlike” thing is a huge meme in advertising directed at mothers who are at home during the day.When I go out to professional events, I get people asking “you’re leaving your kids with your husband?!” all the time. So this approach seems to have some hold, both in the target crowd (stay-at-home moms) and within other communities (professional events presumably feature working folk, including working parents). Their message is not unique. The way they’ve done blogger/Twitter outreach, as Chapman points out, had all the delicacy of a t-rex in a rose garden, but their message? Not only not unique, but it seems to have resonance at some level somewhere. I wondered for a long time if it was just legacy messaging, but anecdotally I’ve gathered that maybe it’s not.

  22. arikhanson says:

    @betweenstations But again, the execution or strategy isn’t my issue. It’s the reaction, which seems a little over-the-top. It is an interesting conversation–this whole “dopey Dad” messaging. I think there’s a growing minority of Dads that are just like CC–they would definitely take offense to this. But, there’s still (I would think) large majority that would see this video and chuckle (as I did). Guess that makes me a lesser Dad or something…

  23. arikhanson says:

    @betweenstations But again, the execution or strategy isn’t my issue. It’s the reaction, which seems a little over-the-top. It is an interesting conversation–this whole “dopey Dad” messaging. I think there’s a growing minority of Dads that are just like CC–they would definitely take offense to this. But, there’s still (I would think) large majority that would see this video and chuckle (as I did). Guess that makes me a lesser Dad or something…

  24. betweenstations says:

    See, the whole bit irritates me.Many women think this is cute/tolerable that the males in their life are helpless/useless at ‘traditionally female’ things. Many men embrace that concept too, for various reasons. The daytime mommy playgroup makes me chew holes in my cheeks, in part because of stuff like this — some of the ladies there get their self-esteem and worth from the fact that THEY know how to put the kids in clean matching clothing, and their husbands do not.I don’t think it’s cute. As I said on Twitter, every full-grown mammal without special circumstances should be competent at laundry, basic food prep, and procurement of shelter. Period. Frankly, more manufacturers should be called out on these messages. The reason they aren’t is because they target SAHMs. Ragu is getting pummeled because somehow they decided to reach out to males with the message. Which was dumb.

  25. Interesting topic, @arikhanson , and POVs in the comments here. I will admit to reacting in a overzealous way to the Ra-goof. I wanted to compare the issue to Motrin Moms at first, but realized I probably got over excited at the thought of another brand case study when I showed Ragu’s apology to a colleague. I leaned toward calling the apology defensive, but my colleague said she thought it was actually well thought out and remorseful. On second read, I think she’s right. Here it is so you can judge for yourself: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=255030731207579

    All that said, it’s hard for me to say Ragu doesn’t need to be called out in some form. Here’s why. Mistakes like this give PR a bad name and set our industry back. And when I say mistakes like this, I am referring much more to spamming high-profile bloggers you don’t know with tweets and a video link that the actual campaign video Ragu made. Some of the reaction may have been over the top (great movie, btw). I can definitely see that POV. But don’t we also have a responsibility as PR pros to make sure incidents like this one don’t get thrown into the “negative generalizations about PR” pile?

  26. jlbraaten says:

    @arikhanson Ah yes, but that means we’re talking about two different issues then, doesn’t it? You’re now talking about bloggers calling out brands, to which I say you’re justified in saying that the backlash on Ragu is overblown.

    I’m talking about male gender roles in advertising, and to that point I think Ragu got exactly what it asked for. I think that’s the chord that was struck to spark all the backlash.

    Same case study, different issues. I guess whether Ragu deserves the backlash depends on how you look at it.

  27. arikhanson says:

    @jlbraaten And I’m not disagreeing with that at all. Definitely a valid point. And confounding why Ragu chose to pitch that video (even though I thought it was fairly harmless) to Dad bloggers. Still not sure they “got what they asked for.” What did they really do wrong here? And how come no one’s going after the Mom bloggers who actually shared the opinions? I mean, aren’t they culpable here, too, if we’re going to take offense with these comments?

  28. arikhanson says:

    @JGoldsborough Agree–but as you know, Justin, I just think there’s a more productive route a few of these bloggers could have gone. Calling the agency out and calling them “snake oil salesman” is just taking it way too far. Again, how do we know Ragu actually took the advice of the agency? We both know that doesn’t always happen. Bottom line: The punishment still doesn’t fit the crime in my book. I’m all from learning from mistakes–just in a more productive way than how this played out.

  29. jlbraaten says:

    @arikhanson One of the moms said that “dad’s could only make waffles or sausages.” “Dads can only make breakfast for dinner.” “Dads can only use the grill.”

    The moms were sharing their one-off experiences, but Ragu wove them all together to create a caricature of the dopey dad. That’s the way I saw it, at least.

  30. arikhanson says:

    @jlbraaten She didn’t say that exactly, but I get your point. See, I didn’t take it that way at all. I thought it was really benign. I saw it as Moms talking about what Dad makes for dinner and what they do when that happens. Also, I didn’t see any reason to get upset about Moms saying they have a drink while Dad cooks. After all, isn’t that what we do? Now we’re going to hold Moms to a different standard. I thought that was a little overblown, too.

  31. betweenstations says:

    @arikhanson@jlbraaten I’m after them. They’re romanticizing helplessness.

    I don’t think it’s cute from either gender. I have a relative, female, who can’t do anything more complex than a Lean Cuisine. I think that pathetic too.The message of this campaign is common. Ragu and their agency both deserve to be drop-kicked for a clumsy misjudgement of their audience and outreach, because I am assuming that Ragu approved the outreach in their name. I’m not one to let brands play the “oh nos we didn’t know what our agency was doing!” game, either, because it’s your job to know who is messing with your brand and how.

  32. adamsinger says:

    Hey Arik – thanks for this, appreciate the alternative perspective. I actually don’t think anyone overreacted. It was a natural reaction by the people involved — they have personality and care about their category. No more or less “over-reactive” than TechCrunch writing headlines like “Facebooks new layout CHANGES EVERYTHING” or Wired writing sensational stuff like “The Web Is Dead.” The web is provocative. It’s what we do :)

  33. kmskala says:

    As I mentioned on CC’s post, social has allowed all of us to become whiners and critics. While Ragu’s campaign, as you mentioned, was lazy, social has made us all “experts” and allowed us to jump on the smallest mistake and blow it up. So Ragu made a mistake — it happens. Doesn’t make it right, but it happens. CC’s post was just as worthless as Ragu’s campaign. So I guess we all lose.

  34. MikeHale says:

    You nailed this one. 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.

    The campaign may not have been the brightest idea, but I can’t imagine getting that worked up over an ad campaign for spaghetti sauce. I really respect the opinions of guys like C.C. Chapman and Jason Falls, but their “outrage” to me seems a bit silly. I think they may be feeling a little too full of themselves and their own opinions.

  35. arikhanson says:

    @adamsinger Good point. But, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one Mr. Singer. Some of Chapman’s comments were well past what I would deem “reasonable” in this situation. But, like you said, the Web is provocative. And, who am I to tell him how/what to feel.

  36. sarahJ26 says:

    @MSchechter Having known CC since grade school…he’s very passionate about things. And if Ragu had answered him, he’d have blogged about that too. He’s a great dad and takes that roll very seriously. It’s not like he went looking for Ragu, they spammed HIM. They got what they deserved.

  37. ellerylong says:

    Nice post, Arik, you bring up a lot of good points. And while I do think there are a lot of examples out there of folks overreacting on social media channels (I like to call it “twitching”), I don’t think that this was necessarily that. In fact, I think we need to recognize that to a certain extent, this goes with the territory of social and that brands need to adapt. I posted about this last week (inspired by the C.C. vs. Ragu incident among others) and argued that it is time for social content creators to raise their game given the nature of the beast. At the very least, though, I think that brands should be prepared for this kind of feedback and open to the dialogue that their content creates. I certainly don’t see the need to defend Ragu on this one, and given that Unilever has already started to reach out to the bloggers they irked, it seems that they can handle the heat.

    Feel free to check out my post on the topic for a bit more context on my thoughts: http://ellerylong.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/its-time-for-social-content-creators-to-raise-their-game/

    Cheers,

    Ellery

  38. trishofthetrade says:

    Anyone notice how the women are drinking while dad’s cooking?

  39. MSchechter says:

    @sarahJ26 Not knowing CC at all, I’d have to agree to disagree here.

    They made a mistake and while it warranted a reaction, it didn’t deserve his overreaction.

  40. arikhanson says:

    @MSchechter@sarahJ26 Here’s the thing: Absolutely no one is questioning CC or Jason or Adam’s digital smarts or what great Dads they (CC/Jason) are. We’re merely talking about the reaction. That’s all.

  41. arikhanson says:

    @ellerylong Fair points, Ellery. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about the degree of the reaction. However, your larger point is a good one. This notion of holding brands to a higher level. I tend to agree–it’s just all in the way we go about it sometimes.

  42. Ari Herzog says:

    I’m apparently under that rock you allude, for until reading the above I was in the dark about this whole thing. I clicked a few of the links you suggested and perused headlines and such.

    Seems like a dead issue now, no?

  43. MarcGirolimetti says:

    Some of you, like @adamsinger , already saw this on CCs blog and commented, but I will summarize what I said to CC last week. “He overreacted in a big way because Ragu is not targeting sauce lovers, Moms or Dads. They’re targeting people who hate food. Ragu is the scourge of jarred sauce.”

    I’m not worried about losing a consulting opp with them or their agency. If they hire me, it better be to show them how to make a significantly better product. :-)

  44. MSchechter says:

    @arikhanson Absolutely. One has nothing to do with the other in my mind.

  45. MSchechter says:

    @arikhanson Just to be clear, when I agreed to disagree it was to the “they got what they deserved” comment.

  46. adamsinger says:

    @Ari Herzog not a dead issue for Ragu. Google “Ragu Pasta Sauce” …social extends to search …shows you why you shouldn’t kick over the hornets nest 😉

  47. kimtracyprince says:

    I would also like to point out that the two-way thing becomes three, four, five, and six ways when you consider brand, pr, production company, and bloggers. It’s not just a faceless jar of sauce. There are people involved. We should all play nice. http://www.kimtracyprince.com/2011/10/office-politics/

  48. Blisser says:

    @brittenwolf Bloggers, overreact?! Nooo…

  49. Blisser says:

    @brittenwolf Bloggers, overreact?! Nooo…