Ragu, Dads, and Lessons Learned for Communicators and Bloggers

Like many, I grew up eating Ragu tomato sauce on my pasta. These days, I don’t buy it because I generally prefer to make my own simple tomato sauces or buy marinara sauces with fewer ingredients (and no added sugar since I don’t like overly sweet sauce).

For these reasons, I hadn’t given the brand much thought lately until I saw a blog post from my friend CC Chapman, provocatively titled “Ragu Hates Dads.” Needless to say, this caught my attention, as it did for many others. So I clicked over and read up on what happened.

You should read CC’s post, but here’s a quick synopsis:

  • Ragu worked with mom bloggers to create a web video with of them talking about what it is like when dad cooks dinner in their homes
  • The @ragusauce Twitter account sent messages to several dads, drawing their attention to the video
  • After sending the @ messages to the dads, @ragusauce went radio silent
  • Since CC does the shopping and cooking in his house, he felt offended by the implied messaging of the video that dads don’t cook and when they do it is a novelty
  • Ragu did not respond to the criticism in a timely fashion (and as of this writing has not responded at all)

CC went on to post a follow-up that offered free advice to Ragu that focused on listening and responding using social media. Again, read the post for yourself for CC’s thoughtful suggestions.

Here’s the problem. Although I often agree with him, CC is off base with much of his criticism here.

Let me explain.

This was Mom Bloggers Offering their Own Views

The video appears to be candid conversations with mom bloggers who were compensated by Ragu for their time and support. When I watched the video it seemed clear to me that they were talking about their own experiences with dad cooking at home. Obviously, Ragu offers an implied endorsement for their comments by distributing it under the Ragu brand, but that’s not the same as using actors to deliver a carefully prepared message. Amateur spokespeople like those bloggers featured in the video can only be coached on what to say so much without it being obviously scripted, and this did not have that feel.

Inflammatory Headlines Like “Ragu Hates Dads” are not Helpful

“Ragu Hates Dads” makes for a good headline, but nothing in this campaign suggests that is remotely true. I have several issues with the headline. I’m all for a catchy headline, but it should honestly reflect the content and blogger’s belief. Many folks will see nothing but the headline and draw an incorrect conclusion. Brands have a responsibility to market online in good faith, but bloggers have a responsibility to do the same even when being critical. Beyond that, I have little patience for the “COMPANY A hates GROUP B” type claims. They are rarely true and they contribute to the fear that many brands still have about engaging in social media.

Heated Rhetoric Discourages Constructive Conversation

Even if you agree that Ragu made a mistake or misstep here, the overheated rhetoric does little to contribute to constructive conversation that helps Ragu and other brands engage more prudently in social media. If CC had led with his follow-up post, it would have been much more helpful. Instead people ended up focusing on “Ragu Hates Dads” and truly unnecessary things like using an expletive implied hashtag and registering a domain name of the same name and linking it to the original post.

Strong Anti-Brand Sentiment Makes it Harder for Companies to Respond

The overheated rhetoric that CC’s objections set off likely froze Ragu in place, as it does with many brands. No doubt there have been many uncomfortable conversations within the Ragu corporate structure and with its outside agency partner(s). This becomes a self-feeding cycle as Ragu gets criticized for being silent, but the increasing hostile rhetoric drives up the risk factor, slowing down decision making. Clearly, Ragu should be able to respond more quickly, but I also understand the dynamic of large companies and how they deal with social media risk.

The Video Can’t Be Viewed in Isolation

When you look at the video in question in the context of the other videos in the series, it clearly seems much more innocuous to me. It feels like they threw out a legitimate question to mom bloggers, “What is it like when dad cooks in your house?” and turned it into a video. Big deal. Sure there are lots of dads like CC and me who love to cook and do so for our families, but there are plenty of households where that isn’t the case. There is no video that could be targeted at a specific demographic without potentially irritating or offending some excluded demographic. Big deal.

What Would Have Changed the Outcome for Ragu?

Ragu could have avoided all of this with just a few simple steps:

  • Personalize the message to dad bloggers. I actually like reaching out to them with this video, but give more thought to the message. For example, I might have sent it to CC with the message “As a dad who cooks often, what’s your take on this? What’s it like when mom cooks in your house?” Or something like that.
  • Be prepared to respond more quickly. Again, I think that the harsh rhetoric is what likely slowed response, but that’s not a great excuse. Find a way to at least deliver a quick, brief response as a prelude to something more detailed. I don’t believe brands need to respond to every critique 24/7 but this is one where they should have had greater preparedness.
  • Call CC when he calls you out. In these days where we all hide behind editable electronic text, there’s something to be said for the value of more personal interaction. CC likely looks scary to Ragu right now, but I know him to be a great teddy bear of a guy who would probably go out of his way to be helpful if Ragu called.

What Should CC and Ragu Do Next?

So what now?

First, I’m happy that CC is dialing back the rhetoric a little bit. As a community, we should offer constructive criticism of brands that encourages them to remain engaged and others to join them. When we go to Defcon 1 on a company, it makes it that much harder to convince them and others to continue to take advantage of all that social media has to offer.

As for Ragu? I’d take CC up on his offer to talk over dinner that he cooks. If nothing else, I’m pretty sure they’ll end up with a great meal out of it!

About The Author

Chip Griffin serves as the Founder & CEO of CustomScoop. He writes and speaks frequently about data-driven public relations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

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