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Food Giants Targeting Mommy Bloggers

Food Giants Targeting Mommy Bloggers

By Clare Leschin-Hoar, TakePart

This weekend, The New York Times had an important piece on how McDonald’s bottom-line success has left burger rivals Wendy’s and Burger King in the dust. The average free-standing McDonald’s restaurant pulled in nearly $2.6 million in sales last year, up 13 percent since 2008, despite a sluggish economy.

Times reporter Keith O’Brien points to a number of reasons for the impressive growth: an estimated $2 billion advertising budget. New menu items. Newly remodeled restaurants. Even the McRib, “the highly processed pork sandwich whose popularity baffles even some at McDonald’s,” he writes.

Another important and successful strategy? Outreach to bloggers. Specifically, mommy bloggers, one of the most powerful groups of writers on the internet these days. The tactic is known as brand work, and it’s intended to change the perception of fast food among women who are largely in charge of food choices for their family.

How big of a priority is this audience? So big, they’re given access to Jan Fields, the president of McDonald’s U.S.A.

In 2010, McDonald’s invited 15 influential bloggers to the company’s headquarters for a look-see, which included McFlurries in the test kitchen, a tour to the Ronald McDonald House and more. The bloggers were asked to post about their trip, and the effort was so successful that the company sent Fields to the BlogHer conference in San Diego in August of 2011, where they arranged for a private luncheon for 25 bloggers.

And McDonald’s is far from the only food company trying to harness the power of moms who blog. Jennifer James, editor of Mom Blog magazine, writes, “Those of us who notice the big players in the mom blogging space know that consumer foods make up a huge part of the product reviews and online activity with mom bloggers.”

She points to efforts by Kraft, Unilever and ConAgra, and to food associations, like the National Mango Board. The trend isn’t new. Several years ago, food industry giants like Nestle, Frito Lay, Starbucks and Taco Bell were actively courting mom bloggers, raising ethical questions and prompting an FTC disclosure requirement.

Sometimes, the practice can backfire in a big way. In late 2010, the Corn Refiners Association took public beating in the blogosphere after they recruited moms to write on the benefits of high fructose corn syrup in exchange for a $50 gift card. Many felt that the bloggers who participated were lured by the gift card, but didn’t understand the complexity of the issue. As a result, they were scorched by peers over their participation in the campaign.

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Like it or hate it, the trend isn’t going away anytime soon. Take, for example, the National Pork Board’s 2012 Strategic Plan and Budget. The association set aside $50,000 to partner with key influential bloggers. A separate $1.4 million budget will also go towards domestic marketing, including “a plan to conduct a Pork Summit for health influencers, food media and bloggers that combines product education and positive pork production messages, including a farm visit.”

Groups like the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, whose members include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Dupont and Monsanto, are specifically targeting moms though Twitter parties with promises to connect them with a farmers or ranchers who “can answer their questions.”

Much of this effort is in response to food activists who have been highly successful in getting the word out about some of the less appetizing aspects of the food industry, like the recent outrage over pink slime. But for readers who gather their food information though some of the down-home mom-blogosphere, the trend is concerning. Most bloggers, moms or not, are not trained journalists, or experts in food production, but perhaps that’s the appeal. Make note of this paragraph in the The New York Times story in which McDonald’s executive Rick Wion talks about the importance of engaging bloggers:

“Bloggers, and specifically mom bloggers, talk a lot about McDonald’s,” he says. “They’re customers. They’re going to restaurants.” And even more important, these women have loyal followings. Why not let them behind the curtain, hope they like what they see and let them tell readers about it? “We identified them and said: ‘These are our key customers. These are key influencers for our brand,’ ” Wion says. “We need to make sure we’re working with them.”

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Photo Credit: danirubioperez

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57 comments

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8:43AM PST on Jan 28, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

5:20PM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

why would moms who are educated and blogging and raising kids in a world so openly consumed by obesity let ads puller her in? smh

6:35AM PDT on May 23, 2012

If they would stop selling crap to our kids, and stop pretending that full-fat yogurt, MSG-sprinkled, plastic-baggied apple slices, and over the top salads with fried chicken strips laid across the top and 200-calorie-per-pop dressings, are "healthy food choices" - maybe mommies like me would stop thinking of them as the Evil Clown's Fast Food Fairy Tale.

8:42PM PDT on May 20, 2012

Thanks! I hardly read blogs, for the reason that they aren't professionals, trained in journalism or research, and I lack the time to read that much (though I do like the occasional unpaid beauty product review). I can't believe - or rather, I can, but I don't want to! - believe that large companies are courting free advertising seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

1:25AM PDT on May 19, 2012

thank you

12:54PM PDT on May 13, 2012

thanks :)

5:23AM PDT on May 13, 2012

Unfortunately Holly L, you'd be naive to think certain bloggers don't have huge influence and reach. Many blogs aren't just about what someone ate for breakfast, they're 'researched' first person P.O.V articles about subjects that matter, in this case nutrition for children. This is a very serious ethical breach, because if someone is paid by a corporation for their 'objective' opinion and that goes on to influence thousands - even millions - of others with this misinformation we'd end up with a health crisis... Oh wait, we already DO have a health crisis.

6:59PM PDT on May 12, 2012

I don't read blogs - instead of blogging these fools need to live life! What do I care if they had toast for breakfast or mint tea ..saddest part though is that they think someone does!

11:47AM PDT on May 11, 2012

If my mommy blogged, she would tell everyone how she resisted my pleas to buy McDonalds burgers, Coca Cola, Baskin Robbins ice cream, Nutella, orange juice, and other sugary processed foods a kid is never supposed to eat. I hated her for that. Now I am deeply grateful to her. As an adult, I walk by fast food places and don't get tempted with chocolate bars and soda drinks.
If there is a lesson I learned from my mom's treatment, is that food habits start in childhood and continue well into adult life. Breaking them requires changing your mind-set and even a circle of friends.

6:38PM PDT on May 10, 2012

Mommie dearest ... You are a lousy substitute for someone who really cares!

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