Monday, March 29, 2010

killer k*t k*t and PR fail

This post first appeared on my food blog.

You’re most likely here because you like food. I like to eat, I like to cook and on the surface those are rather innocuous activities. Way back when, I did my first degree in political science. It didn’t necessarily qualify me to do much except become a public servant or be highly opinionated. While I flirted only briefly with the former, the later has become my life work.

No pretty recipes here today, so only hang in for the ride if you want to chew on a few thoughts about how bloggers are becoming unwitting players in an extraordinary act of greenwashing. Or skip down til you get to the pictures of cute, cuddly animals.

To say I’m rather conflicted about the whole getting a freebie because I’m a blogger thing, is putting it mildly. I have new admiration for those who write in this genre and have decided to totally resist the lure of the public relations sirens. I thought I could navigate my way through the odd event that took my fancy by making it clear I was under no obligation to blog about it. But when we are used as naïve pawns, it gets very difficult to participate.

It seemed innocuous enough, an invite to attend a green event at the zoo. I like and am happy to support Zoos Victoria, they are a great organization, backed by hardworking, committed staff and amazing volunteers. I haven’t a bad word to say about them (though a petty grumble that I wish the entrance fee was cheaper).

Despite the wonderful reptile wrangler (a great guy who deserves a medal) who toyed with my phobia of snakes, the cute meerkats, the good music, I was thrown for six before the tour and festivities even begun.

It began and ended with the goodie bag. A small swag of things I’d never buy, nor had any desire to use, though on second thoughts the itty-bitty bottle of water came in handy, likewise the rain poncho. Buried at the bottom was a family sized block of a confectionery bar that’s been in the news of late.

Here’s were the problem began.

Was it totally naivety, sneakily cross-promoting a possible client or out and out greenwashing to add the confectionery bar that’s been in the news for the company’s use of palm oil, leading to one of the worst social media/PR fails in recent years? While the white chocolate version of the famous finger-like sugary junk food, apparently does not contain palm oil, some of the chocolate versions do but more importantly the product and the brand has so recently been linked with the clearing of habitat of orang-utans for palm oil crops, threatening the survival of the species.

The clincher is the Melbourne Zoo is actively involved in the don’t palm us off campaign, putting their weight behind a political campaign to raise awareness about the palm oil issue.

Everywhere you go through the zoo you see these huge banners supporting the campaign.

However the person I spoke to from the PR agency, who I immediately returned the offending item to, looked at me blankly. Perhaps she'd never been inside the zoo (this occurred at the assembly point at the gate), looked at the Zoos Victoria website or been in a media bubble all week. I explained considering the whole N*stle, Greenpeace video, palm oil issue I could not accept it.

First thing this morning I called the communications manager for the zoo. She was, to put it mildly, horrified that the confectionery was promoted as part of the event. This was the first she knew of it and promised to get back to me later in the day when she had taken the matter further. I repeat, Zoos Victoria were as big a patsies as bloggers in the whole kitkatgate scandal. Don't take it out on the zoo, just encourage them to make more ethical PR partnerships in future.

Food bloggers by nature are not political. It takes time and energy to get riled up about the issues behind the news. But if we (along with Zoos Victoria) play along with these manipulations without questioning the strategy, quite frankly we deserve the lack of respect we get from the traditional media.

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Blogger R.H. said...

Well done.

I understand it now.

2:28 pm  
Blogger Ann ODyne said...

Food is very political, and increasingly so.
We are all capable of using our purses to Take A Stand.
It is easy to boycott DeBeers*diamonds in protest against human rights abuse, I have done it for years; And just little effort to Buy local,
Buy Australian, and Buy from the growers who make the effort and expense to distribute chemical free food, and instantly YOU are An Activist.

11:28 am  

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