Last week, father-extraordinaire CC Chapman found himself embroiled in controversy – but it wasn’t with a person. Chapman was, technically, fighting with a pasta sauce. I originally intended on posting a story last week when this issue broke, but am glad I waited because the way this story is unfolding is interesting if you’re at all interested in the way companies are dealing with the “social” part of Social Media. And if you’re a father who loves pasta night around the house, well, you’ll want to take all this in.

Coincidentally, 8BitDad‘s been on fire lately with stories about advertising, bad brands, good brands and the deployment of commercials around those brands. Here’s another brand for the list – Ragú. And what we’re wrestling with right now is whether Ragú is father-stupid or father-hating. Hint: the answer’s easy, but still deserves way more reading than you’d like to do on a Tuesday.

Okay, so Ragú doesn’t “hate” fathers. But they’re father-stupid for sure. What started this whole red-tomatoey mess was that Ragú (Unilever, but I’m going to refer to them as Ragú since they’re the PR company), thrilled about their social media presence, decided to send a handful of father-bloggers a link to a video. The tweet read “@[dad-blogger-name] do your kids like it when you make dinner? http://ow.ly/6Gvhw” – and that shortened link expands to this video:

For kicks, read some of the comments and you’ll get an idea of how fathers felt. But save your reading eyes since I’ve got a lot more to linkage coming up.

So – CC Chapman, one of the fathers who was sent the link, fired back. And of course he did – Chapman’s a seasoned marketing professional specializing in online community-building, and has worked with brands like Coca-Cola and Discovery Channel. Oh, and he’s also the Founder of Digital Dads (and I can hear his voice in my head saying “mention the book, a**hole! Don’t forget the book!“). Frankly, if you’re a PR firm with an anti-father campaign, CC Chapman’s not the dude you’re going to want to send it to.

So, Chapman wrote a post on his site (9/27) called “Ragu Hates Dads“. It was scathing. It was angry. It was awesome. Read it.

Then, there was silence. The internet churned around the anger and CC Chapman became the figurehead of father-cooked dinners. Still fuming from the issue, Chapman penned “The Secret Sauce – Free Advice for Ragu” the next day. In it, Chapman suggests some free advice for Ragú:

  • “Twitter is a conversation”
  • “Always Be Listening”
  • “The Internet Doesn’t Sleep”
  • “Play Devil’s Advocate With All Ideas”
  • “Don’t Overreact”
  • “If You Want to Engage Parents, Don’t Forget the Dads”

He mentions that after sending their bonehead links to father-bloggers, Ragú checked out for the day and let the bloggers stew overnight about it. Bad move. Chapman also notes that in Ragú’s Ambassador program, there’s only one man. And I’d take it even further in saying that it’s not just a man – it’s a man with his “better half.” Better, of course, according to Ragú. Dude can’t even fly solo. Are there no men or fathers willing to step up for the brand? Probably not anymore.

But wait – there’s more!

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ragú commented on an Custom Scoop blog post by Chip Griffin. Skip the Griffin article. His main point is basically, “eh, big deal.” If a PR firm makes an inflammatory statement, Griffin seems to suggest, don’t make one back – or the ol’ “two wrongs don’t make a right” advice. Anyway, the point here was that Ragú actually commented, and their main point, if you were able to catch it while they furiously backpedaled, was encapsulated best in their last line: “If this week has confirmed anything, it’s that moms and dads (and grandmoms and grandads, too) want to have a word on dinner — and all are welcome to join in the conversation.” Problem is, of course, that Ragú doesn’t really care what dads, grandmoms and grandads have to say because according to Ragú, mom’s where the money is. I mean, clearly – their campaign was called “Mom’s the word on dinner.” How is that all-inclusive?

Meanwhile, CC Chapman had a phone conversation with some of the people associated with the brand, and then gave his final word on the incident. And that final word was that basically, Ragú was foolish to have used “a traditional marketing mentality to run their social programs.” So, the issue was finally dead.

THE ISSUE WAS NOT DEAD.

Christine Cea, Brand PR Director of Unilever (parent-company of Ragú) did a write-up of their incident on Monday morning, October 3rd. The article is funny to me. Like, ha-ha funny, not makes-ya-think funny. What Cea did was basically backpedal and say “we’re still learning here – but check out our campaign! It’s been really successful, so clearly there’s not too many self-respecting dads or wives that love their husbands. Facebook stats matter more than people.” And to Ragú, in their defense – Facebook stats DO mean more. Cea mentioned that, more or less, if you didn’t like part of the campaign, you just didn’t get it. “Without having the context of the broader seven-month program, which addresses a range of dinnertime topics families face,” Cea suggests, “we completely understand how the recipients felt a disconnect.” Problematically, this still isn’t good business. I watched the rest of the videos. It looks like a typical mom-based campaign that ignores fathers. So once Ragú’s “Dad Cooks Dinner: What is Dinnertime Like When Dad Cooks” came up – it was the nail in the coffin. To say that we don’t understand the broader context by not seeing the rest of the videos is ridiculous. What I understood from the rest of the videos was that I wasn’t important. And when “When Dad Cooks” is put in place, I understand that I’m not important and I’m in the way. Do I understand it correctly now, Christine?

Cea then says “Our content clearly underscores a respect for the role of mom, as well as the family as a whole, which was overlooked in the rush to judgments and sensationalist headlines.” Again – no. The sensationalist headlines drew attention to the fact that your content did not, as a matter of fact, underscore a respect for the family as a whole. That is, of course, if you’re counting the father as part of the family.

Oh, and congratulations on your “industry accolades for the brand’s ability to engage.” There’s a million mean-spirited things I want to say about that. But I’d rather say that industry accolades are not people. You should opt for people over industry accolades any day. The industry, after all, is one that most of us fathers dislike – for reasons like the one we’re discussing.

Arik Hanson, a PR commentator, says bloggers might be overreacting. But what Hanson overlooked is that Ragú came to the bloggers’ turf and created the issue. If Ragú had simply stuck to selling pasta sauce and not made the web-series, they wouldn’t be in this mess. Think about it in terms of this convoluted metaphor – a realty company walks into a primarily heterosexual neighborhood and hands out flyers to the gay families (I don’t know how the realty company knows these families are gay, but stick with me here). The gay families look at the flyer and it’s quotes from all the straight families saying things like “when the gay families mow their lawn, they do it wrong,” or “the way the gay families parent their kids, I don’t agree with it.” Then, on the bottom of the realty flyer it says “Come check out our open houses in the area, we’d love to have you!” This would not go over well. And in a strange way, in my opinion, this is what Ragú did. They sent dads an invitation to their own roast, then defended themselves by saying “but it’s effective, so shhhhh.” So, Arik, respectfully, I disagree. Hanson asks if it’s time we start giving ad agencies a break. The answer, of course, is “no!” This is their job – to take a product and make people want it. If they’re not making people want it – or isolating a segment of potential buyers and telling them they’re lesser than another…well, that’s not a company that needs a “break.” That’s a company that needs a fierce re-organization of values.

And I think everyone should be able to agree that no matter how many times Ragú says that it was very open about making “Mom’s the Word on Dinner” a campaign that involves fathers, it couldn’t be. If a high school called their prom “Prom for White Students” but then backpedaled when African American kids got angry, it wouldn’t fly.

So that’s that. Is Ragú a dad-hating brand? Or do they just not understand, as CC says, that excluding a segment doesn’t allow you to expand? I’m certainly not interested in Ragú brand products to begin with – but less so knowing that they’d put out imbalanced webisodes like this. And I realize they’re not evil – they’re just naive. Ragú wanted to jump on this “hip social media scene” and grab some cash by looking like mom’s best friend. Well, that’s fine. I’m sure it worked. Just not with me. Or a good handful of the internet-connected fathers.

As I always say, if you were to do it the “other way” and have dads saying something like “when mom’s in the yard playing, she just reads a magazine and tells the kids to fetch a stick,” moms would be outraged, and rightfully so. None of the Ragú moms said anything that inflammatory in the webisode, but you definitely get the idea that at least two of these three moms feel like if they leave their kids with dad, the house might catch on fire. And for a dad to get that impression, it makes you brand-sad.

So – Ragú goes on the bad-list for now. But hey, they’ve got industry accolades and Facebook visits – and that’s got to count for something.