From August 23rd to August 27th, ConAgra's Marie Callender's brand, in collaboration with its PR firm Ketchum, ran a publicity party/research debacle that was the pop-up underground restaurant of Food Network chef George Duran and Supermarket Guru Phillip Lempert. The pop-up restaurant was known as Sotto Terra and it lived below the parlor floor of a Greenwich Village brownstone for five days.
The exercise broke every basic social media and research rule. When all was said and done, invited bloggers felt hoodwinked that they were invited to a four-course dinner and served frozen food. They were irked that they unknowingly entered a research experiment. And most of all they were embarrassed that they involved their trusting followers by inviting them to participate in online sweepstakes to win invitations.
What was ConAgra thinking? ConAgra also forgot context.
The restaurant was run in a New York City R6-zoned residential block that happened to be our block -- a very tight residential Greenwich Village block known for its solidarity and community activism. ConAgra's use of the block was non-conforming use for an R6 district, and was carried out without the necessary permits and/or licenses. All negotiated under a residential sublet lease.
To boot, on the first day, a satellite truck was parked down the block while interviews were conducted. A telltale red cable connected Sotto Terra to the truck. The NYC Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting had no record of issuing a permit to hold parking for a satellite truck. All that existed was an unsigned No Parking sign with the office's logo on a tree adjacent to the truck.
Sadly, misconduct and lack of understanding of the purpose of pop-up kills it for the more compelling pop-ups. For big brands, this demonstrates a more fundamental misunderstanding of people and culture.
Here's the scoop from bloggers that attended the dinners: