The cozy relationships brands have forged with bloggers have been
controversial from the start.

Are marketing and PR initiatives that
target bloggers smart strategy, or are they little more than a flawed
I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach to social media?

The concerns over the latter have been so great that government agencies
have scrutinized how brands work with bloggers, and how those bloggers
promote those brands to their readers.

Scrutinized or not, however, brands and bloggers are no less friendly today. But that doesn’t mean that thesefriendships are without their difficulties.

Case in point: Omnicom-owned PR firm Ketchum recently invited food and mommy bloggers to attend a dinner at an Italian restaurant. The multi-course meal, they were told, was prepared by a celebrity chef. But that wasn’t the case. The New York Times explains:

…rather than being prepared by the chef, the lasagna [the bloggers] were served was Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra Foods.

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.

Ketchum planned to post videos of the dinner to YouTube and other sites, expecting that the bloggers would be amused and pleased that their gourmet food was fresh from a microwave.

Not surprisingly, however, many of the bloggers weren’t amused or pleased. One described the dinner as a “SHAM” and called the entire event a “bait-and-switch“.

Part of the problem, of course, with Ketchum’s Marie Callender’s campaign is that Ketchum invited individuals who, it’s probably fair to assume, often feel some level of ‘entitlement‘.

After all, many of these bloggers have become used to being treated like royalty. From access to exclusive events to free product, the idea, whether anyone will admit to it, is essentially that bloggers can be bought with free goodies.

But it doesn’t always work out. Bloggers are a tough bunch, and the more they receive, the more they’ll expect. In the case of Ketchum, it’s not shocking that treating a bunch of bloggers to a four-star meal that turns out to be microwave food didn’t meet expectations.

At the same time, it’s safe to say that had Ketchum’s dinner been as-described, there were would be far fewer complaints, if any at all, and chances are you and I wouldn’t know of the exclusive meal.

Which begs the question: what in the world are brands and PR firms thinking? A “delicious four-course meal” at “an intimate Italian restaurant“? A “special evening in a special location” for a select group of individuals who write about food and motherhood?

Brands, their agencies and their PR firms need to stop deluding themselves. The goal is to connect with real consumers in meaningful ways using social media, but Ketchum’s blogger blunder suggests that many are trying to go about this in the most roundabout and bizarre of ways.