The Secret Sauce - Free Advice for Ragu

I have the simple goal in life to help as many people, companies and organizations find success. It is what I wake up every morning hoping to do.

Because of that, I want to give some free advice to the team at Ragu, whoever their social media agency is and any company thinking about getting into social media.

I’ve got the credentials to give this advice. I ran my own marketing agency. I’ve helped develop and execute online campaigns for The Coca-Cola Company, HBO, American Eagle Outfitters and many other companies. I get paid quite well to speak on the subject and consult with companies, but today the advice is completely free.

I just hope it helps.

My free social media advice for today is in direct relation to Ragu spilling all over their own campaign.

Twitter is a Conversation.

As of me writing this it has been 19 hours since Ragu sent their last tweet. This is not a big deal, except that their last batch of tweets were @ messages to several dads to bring attention to their newest video.

On Twitter when you send an @ message you are hoping for a response (they sure did get one from me). You are publically talking to someone and of course you hope they respond. I’ve seen responses to them and yet I’ve seen them say nothing back. It is a two way street and a conversation isn’t very good if you don’t say anything back.

Would anyone think it was a good idea to walk into a party and scream “hey look at me” and then walk back out the door without saying anything else? I think not.

Always Be Listening

This is rule number one of the Internet and without it being a core part of your culture you are in trouble.

You never know what people are saying about you online unless you’ve got your ears up. There are so many tools that can help you do this, but at a minimum you need to have Google Alerts and Twitter Search (both free) set up around your name, executive’s names and products.

Last night there was a SWARM of conversation about my post and tons of tweets, FB posts and other blog posts about the subject. I got up this morning and the conversation was still going on. I talked about it, responded to comments and continued the conversation.

Guess who was not part of it? You guessed right, Ragu.

The Internet Doesn’t Sleep

We live in a world that never turns off. Keeping old fashion bankers hours does not work any more.

Now in this case I know that the sauce hit the fan around 11:00 at night and most brands are not listening except during traditional work hours, but I don’t think that can be an excuse any more.

The fact that these @ messages were thrown out and then whoever wrote them clocked out for the night is dangerous. If you are going to open up a conversation then you need to be sure to be ready to discuss things in real time. If you want to only engage during “business hours” then make that clear.

Play Devil’s Advocate With All Ideas

Whenever I’ve been involved in building a campaign we always sit down and think “what is the worse thing that could happen.” We do this so that it vets the idea and so that we are prepared for it.

Rarely will you run into a full blown crisis, but if you don’t challenge the ideas and at least think about worse case scenarios then you are only doing a half ass job of working with your clients. I’ve worked on some pretty insane campaigns that involved shark attacks, vials of fake blood and giving out bras to teenagers on Facebook. Talk about possible pitfalls, but we were ready for them because we discussed them up front.

Don’t Overreact

I don’t know what (if anything) Ragu is going to do because of all this, but I sure hope they don’t over react.

I remember when the whole Motrin Moms fiasco happened and they instantly pulled the ad and issued a legalese ridden apology. They buried it in the sand and ran away from it rather than using it as something to talk about and learn from.

Tempers can flare and they can die out just as fast. Be calm and everything will be ok. Just don’t do nothing. That is even worse. 🙂

If You Want to Engage Parents, Don’t Forget the Dads

A final point that only applies to brands who are targeting parents.

Last night when all this happened I noticed that there is a Ragu Ambassador program. I don’t know how long this has been going on, but they have 25 bloggers involved. Any idea how many men. ONE!

Most of us guys are use to this and giggle about being “the token dad” in a group. Sure we laugh it off, but it is lazy in my mind. I’m still waiting for the day that a brand step up and fully realizes the power of all parents rather than just one group or another.


I’m writing this from an airport in Canada. I have no idea if anyone is listening, but I sure know that a lot of people are talking about my reaction and the campaign.

I truly hope this advice helps Ragu and others.

Ragu, let’s discuss over dinner. Only rule is I get to cook. 🙂

3:00 pm Update – A brand manager has contacted me and we are going to chat tomorrow.

Photo Credit: PicsIShouldShare

  • Target is guilty of the same. Apparently only women shop for clothing and only men shop for sporting gear.

    Actually there are a boatload of big brands that vomit Tweets and ignore incoming. That’s because they probably have outsourced to an agency who has a junior staff member monitoring the feed. Guaranteed they are only measuring RT’s and nothing else./rant over/

    PS- I still have nighmares over Motrin Moms….

    • Pathetic isn’t it?

    • Oh Lynette YOU have no idea about that comment!  Us fellers only exist in three shelves at Target. TV shelf, Power Tools, and underwear.  That is the only thing they will ever market to Men and Dads!  Guess who did majority of the Target runs in our house? You guessed it, ME it was closer to my job and I knew what we needed at all times (it was my job to keep tabs)

    • Illya Kuryakin

      I’m no fan of marketing to sexual, age or racial stereotypes. I think it is lazy and prone to backfire. But a blanket attack on agencies is no better than a blanket attack on men.

      There are a boatload of bad brand managers and bad agencies …. doesn’t mean that agencies are the source of the problem. You want some insight into reality you look me up. We can talk about how the sudden availability of quants after the financial markets imploded has injected a irrational focus on aggregate data and NPS calculations in brand managers, and created a disincentive to care about individual interactions with consumers. We cab also talk about how brand managers at big CPG companies are rarely qualified to give their social media agency a brief, or how they are so web to their advertising creative that the put blinders on to common sense.

  • Great words of advice here CC…and you can just as easily have replace Ragu with [insert brand here]. Know your audience, engage with them, talk WITH (not to) them, and listen to what they say back…those are the key takeaways. 

    It will be interesting to see if and how Ragu responds to this. 

    As we talk about on our Cast of Dads podcast, the role of the dad has evolved, with shared responsibilities, and definitely breaking the stereotypes that are out there. It’s time for big and small brands to understand this and stop using modern conversation and engagement media with ancient and outdated target audience and demographic stereotypes!

    • Exactly, I’m using Ragu as the latest example, but we all know that it has happened before and WILL happen again.

      I’m just hoping that this post helps someone do it better.

  • CC this post, in my opinion is far more valuable than the first as it underscores the problems with what Ragu attempted and why if failed. I do think it is missing one very important element.  I mean I don’t know you other than your book, the interview you gave me over a year ago, and your stuff that I read or watch from you multiple feeds. Anyone who does the same has a sense  for the type of father you are, what you share publicly about that role, etc.   Who ever ran this at Ragu obviously invested no time in figuring out who you were before they put the at symbol in front of your twitter handle.  

    This underscores one of the greatest challenges in honest to goodness social media oriented marketing – to do it properly it requires a fair degree of effort.  And, more importantly, a commitment to prioritize that time investment and ensuring you have the right people in place to execute.  

    Again my opinions but it will be very interesting to see how they react.  Ironically the nature of the way these things work they have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on their mistake and turn into a positive conversation with their audience.   

    I am teaching a MBA Marketing Strategy course right now and am having my class read Scott’s New rules of marketing and PR – (Content rules is a recommended read 😉  this is a perfect example of what not to do under the new rules – and I’m planning on using it as an example.  

    Good stuff, thanks for taking the time to share it with your audience.

    • You are correct and it is something that most people don’t realize when they set off to do a campaign.

      The level of grunt work and effort to get it right takes more time than anyone realizes. You just can’t pull up a list of ______ bloggers and think that it is going to work. Sure, you can cast a wide net if you are not looking for great results, but I know how much time I’ve put into pulling together outreach lists in the past and it takes days to get them right.
      Thanks for including our book in your possible reading. I love that it is helping so many people.

  • Summer Joy

    Don’t overreact. I think that’s one of the biggest take away’s here. That’s assuming they react at all. In a state of panic it’s so easy to bury and run. Facing it head on, owning up to it, and growing from it will prove to build trust quicker than any blanketed apology ever could. Take a deep breath and make some changes…don’t detonate the entire effort. Great post…

    • EXACTLY!!!

      That is why I wanted to put that in there because over reacting seems to be the norm.

      My honestly hope is that they learn from this. We ALL make mistakes, but it is what we learn from them that really defines us.

  • Greg Hollingsworth

    Honestly, most brands are guilty of this, it’s not just Target or Ragu. 

    The marketing world clings to stereotypes and demographic reports for a reason, they are (for the most part) fairly representative. They may offend some folks, but the average joe who actually will go buy Wrangler’s because Brett Farve endorses them, doesn’t notice.

    This is very different, as they called this attention on themselves and didn’t bother to take even a minute to figure out who they were targeting when they sent out those tweets (mass tweeting like that is a bad idea anyways), but it’s not surprising.

    I don’t do much social marketing anymore, but one thing I always tried to stress to my bosses when I did was that social isn’t like traditional marketing and when you treat it as such, you will not get the results you want. Ragu took a standard approach on a non-standard campaign, and they’re getting bitten in the ass for it.

    • Very true and in the end I hope they learn from it. Their agency learns from it and next time they do better.

  • CC I totally hope there is a larger discussion that comes out of this. Ragu has a HUGE opportunity to take this to a level most brands would kill for. Your advice is dead on and useable. I hope the Agency, Legal, and Old School red tape dont get in the way.  Bet there are about 3-4 people internally that agree with you and have the passion to take this to the next level. Legal and Agency please let these folks run with it. You will see a HUGE positive outcome!

  • After my first read I thought you were overreacting. After the second read? Still overreacting. And the third? Total overreaction.

    First off, who hasn’t been hit up by a brand with a crappy spam campaign on Twitter? This stuff is a dime a dozen and to be honest why give away the free advice? They’ll learn quickly that it’s bad form to do this. You’re obviously pointing that out, but it’s Ragu; a brand I’m sure you’re not pining over with posters of jars on your wall next to Farrah Fawcett.

    Secondly, why is it surprising that a below average product would put out a below average campaign? Ragu is not targeting sauce lovers, Moms or Dads. They’re targeting people who hate food. Ragu is the scourge of jarred sauce. I’ve been out to eat with you CC. I know you don’t hate food. I’d only be offended if Ragu thought I was in their target market and would actually like them.

    Also, I saw two of their ambassador bloggers had Italian last names. I’ve already contacted the embassy to ensure their red, white and green membership cards are revoked. 

    Oh and if we’re giving out free advice, here’s a simple and super quick sauce recipe for those who are in a hurry. 

    1. Buy a can, not a jar, of simple marinara sauce (Trader Joe’s has a good one)
    2. Toss it in a pot and warm it up.
    3. Mix in dry Italian seasoning, oregano, salt and pepper
    4. Stir
    5. Taste
    6. Pour over pasta or on pizza dough. 

    If you don’t have hours to simmer a homemade sauce this is the way to go.

    • Leave it to you to make me laugh out loud and hurt myself laughing.

      Maybe I am over reacting. But, in the end hopefully someone learns something from it all.

      • Hopefully that lesson is don’t promote crappy food to CC…who secretly wants to be a Motrin Dad, because I hurt him when I make him laugh. 🙂

    • “They’re targeting people who hate food. Ragu is the scourge of jarred sauce” …that’s hysterical …nearly fell off my chair 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’m tired of the way dads are treated. Their adds show us as incompetent, to say the least. One day they will figure it out. We are in this together, moms and dads. Let’s not disrespect one partner in a cooperative adventure.


  • Michael Sharpe

    I’ve also got to add, particularly for international Brands, such as Ragu. (ASDA, UK’s WalMart, stocks their brand, although may not be by the same company)

    One name and don’t offer anything for the customer who may be looking for your product in their country. As someone in England, I do feel quite insulted if a company posted tweets promoting their US campaign directed at me, then discover that it’s only for places I can’t reasonably get to.

    I wonder if the Companies forget the internet is very international, I often play online with an American, a Dutchman, and a Australian, all at the same time!

    At least, Discovery Channel USA, said that  @mythbusters:twitter  was run for the US Customers, but know that the UK Discovery Channel shows the program too. (!/MythBusters/statuses/12572183637270528

    Oh yeah, I’d better be off: I’m making Tea.

  • I think a true test of their Ambassador program is if some of them come here independently to talk about what happened, how they would want to approach a dialogue, etc.  It will be interesting, but no doubt the brand team (and agency if they have one) will be concerned about the reaction.  They do have an opportunity to jump in, respond, and apply lessons learned.  This is not anywhere close to Motrin Moms to me – it’s a misstep in a poor outreach strategy and a “teachable moment” on using twitter as a platform and thinking bigger about their marketing.

    • A teaching moment indeed and I’m just trying to share what I know to make it a good one. Still seems no one is listening.

  • CC I love you, I had you on my radio show and promoted your book to my listeners and blog audience.

    With that said there is merit in this discussion of how everyone, you included, has stated this is a new arena and there are not hard and fast rules for social media…we are all learning…brands and us.

    Now my own natural marketing mind would be  (if I was ragu and their team executing this campaign) reading your posts  and saying to myself, “well hell’s bells we missed that one, how can we extend this conversation?”

    To your point, while the internet never sleeps, how reasonable is it that we expect everyone to not live a balanced life and have that important family time, as as well as sleep?  What have we come to as a world that expects a brand to have someone “talking 24/7”?

    So Ragu choose to work with mom bloggers this time.  How about instead, showing them the opportunity to work with dad bloggers too?

    Hoping to not put a huge target on my back when I ask, do dad bloggers have the same “pull and impact right now as mom bloggers?”

    Great we are discussing this-where was all this years ago when I was changing the face of parenting with my son’s father #justsayin it’s been a long hard road.

    • I never expected an answer right away, but now long after the fact I would hope they would reply.

      It is a great learning experience.

  • Angela Moore

    CC you are a class act. Can’t wait for the updates…

  • Great thoughts on how they could have better handled their campaign. But what about their product?  I  know this is just a “focus group of one” but  I love to cook and even when I’ve been in a pinch and doctored it with basil from my garden, it just never tastes as good as other canned brands and of course doesn’t come near my  homemade marina (and I never make it the same way twice).  So, when you talk to the brand manager, you can give him that tip too.  All the Ambassadors in the world, whether Mom or Dad ambassadors are not going to convince me to like something that I don’t think tastes very good.


    • Well that is a WHOLE other issue.

      I’ve never like their sauce either. It was always too watery and not spiced right for my tastes.

  • LOL you don’t hold anything back, do you, C.C.? 🙂

    • My rule has always been to speak from the heart and that is how I try to live every day.

  • It’s pretty common in mass media in general, including advertising, that the “man of the house” is portrayed as a clueless dufus. Shows like “Married with Children” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” didn’t help our image much. Spend an evening in front of the TV, especially during prime time, and count the number of commercials where the husband or significant male other isn’t all but emasculated.

    • Oh I know that this is a VERY common thing and ask my wife how I react every time I see one of these.

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  • Bobbie {OneScrappyMom}

    First, you have no idea how many bloggers that they contacted about the program and they took the most fitting ones from those, so how do you know that they didn’t invite 50 dads, who either didn’t reply, didn’t feel they were a fit, etc. 

    Again.. Naive at best!

    • Because they told me that they only wanted Moms. NOTHING wrong with that since the program is focused on moms.

      Short sighted because there is more to parenting and eating than just moms, but that is their choice and they get to make it.

      I’m not making any assumptions, just going on what they told me and what I’ve seen.

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  • A reminder that even with Motrin it took a long time… The chat started on Twitter on Saturday evening, I finished editing my video early Sunday morning (around 5AM EST) and the chat on Twitter had been on over 12 hours by that time. Motrin turned their website off late Monday afternoon and I received first contact from them on Tuesday. In social media world.. 3 days is eternity and even then they didn’t really do much else but pull the video and campaign out.

    But what comes to Ragu… Are you overacting? Maybe. But more importantly: does it matter?
    I think it does. I think it’s important for marketers to be able to define their target market niches better and more importantly: know their target audience.

    The important lesson here is the exact same as with Motrin Moms – don’t insult your target audience and KNOW your target audience. 80% of the moms who saw the Motrin ad did NOT get offended, only the 20% of the babywearing moms got offended.

    Same is probably here. 80% of Ragu’s target audience who see this video will not get offended, but maybe 20% will, heck, maybe 5% will, who knows. But the most important thing here is that whatever the % is  that is the exact target audience they were trying to promote this video for. I’m NOT an expect of “daddy bloggers” but many that I know are very hands on dads and help much more at home than open a Ragu jar every now and then or grill for dinner and I completely understand the reaction, even if it’s in the minority.

    I think it’s important that we talk about this type of campaigns to better understand and learn to use social media in more targeted way. The benefit of using social media IS in reaching to smaller demographic of a very specific target audience instead of using traditional media to the masses. I think it’s doable – even when you have a CPG product  like Ragu sold in every grocery store.

  • Srw_99

    Honestly, what they are saying is, woman stay in the kitchen.  If I have to take a few knocks for her to stay in the kitchen I’ll take that win. Pyrrhic victory?  Maybe,  I just know I don’t have to cook anything but the awesome stuff.  Rhanks Raggy.

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