Corntroversy in the Mom-Blogosphere

In this post I’m attempting to remain somewhat neutral about the actual controversial parts, and just document a few things going on regarding the recent campaign for High Fructose Corn Syrup (now being rebranded as “Corn Sugar.”) My disclosure – I saw a “Corn Sugar is the same as Sugar” commercial and nearly spit hormone-packed milk out my nose. Poorly done, Corn Refiners Association. So I’m not totally neutral here – I’m not a fan of all this refined sugar stuff in general. But I eat and drink it. My kids do too, in moderation. I’ve been known to down a HFCS sweetened beverage now and then (I’ve been to Pepsi on a blog tour, even.)

Mom Central, an organization that “provide[s] strategic advice and resources to companies who want to reach the powerful Mom market” and “help[s] clients execute targeted marketing campaigns to Moms that build brand recognition and loyalty” was hired by the Corn Refiners association to do a webinar for moms educating them about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Mom Central has been in business for a pretty long time, and I met Stacy Debroff who runs it on several occasions. They are in business to create earned media for clients via blogs and other online activities (my words) and have a legitimate right to do so. They also have a “manifesto” (listed in the “borg post” referenced below) about how they work with moms.

The current situation: After their webinar, a bunch of mom bloggers posted entries about HFC. The first two posts below are somewhat skeptical, and the third post seems to to the Corn Refiner’s party line.

http://scrappyd.blogspot.com/2010/09/high-fructose-corn-syrup.html

http://www.doublebugs.com/2010/09/27/corn-refiners-association-and-high-fructose-corn-syrup/

http://www.threedifferentdirections.com/blog/high-fructose-corn-syrup-what-exactly-is-it.html

One post on Mom Central talks about the “False Health Halo” presented by brands advertising their products as HFCS free. Which became a bit of a challenge in some of the posts below since this summer, Mom Central also ran a sponsored conversation campaign about Hunts HFCS-Free ketchup. (Evidence: The Mommy Files did a review and notes she was compensated by Mom Central.)

I think the fact that Mom Central has come down on both sides of the good/bad HFCS debate is one of the things that lead to a bit of a backlash by Jessica Gotlieb, Mom101 and others.

http://www.milehimama.com/2010/10/05/biting-the-hand-that-feeds-me/

http://www.ourordinarylife.com/2010/10/mom-bloggers-promote-corn-syrup/

http://www.jessicagottlieb.com/2010/10/corn-sugar-and-moms (full disclosure – I did “like” this post and comment as such – Jessica typically tells it like she sees it and I value that.)

http://www.mom-101.com/2010/10/brands-and-blog-tours-not-always-so.html

After Mom 101 did her post, Stacy Debroff of Mom Central responded, saying of Mom101 :”So how did we arrive at the point yesterday where Liz derides many of her fellow Mom Bloggers as unintelligent, vulnerable to coercion, and naive in general and specifically when posting about high fructose corn syrup?”

There were apparently a lot of comments on Stacy’s post, but eventually she closed the post and deleted comments.

Mom101 responded with her own post about ethics and integrity, suggesting that she did not call the other moms what Debroff said she did, and calling Debroff out for closing off her discussion.

That’s how things seem to stand, today, at this moment.

I’ve tried to document this mostly so I can share it with my NYU students in my “Social Media and the Brand” class, so they can evaluate how campaigns can turn controversial, and how different tactics are used to promote or defend different sides of an issue.

I am not “blog baiting” or looking for lots of traffic here – just looking to document. If I’ve characterized anyone or anything, let me know via comments or via Twitter – @Howardgr.

11 thoughts on “Corntroversy in the Mom-Blogosphere”

  1. I hate to nitpick, as I appreciate your outlining the issue at hand, but it always makes me cringe when bloggers write posts about people and spell their names wrong. It’s Stacy DeBroff, not Stacy Dubroff. And why is Liz Gumbinner the only one referred to by her blog name, Mom101? Both Stacy and Jessica Gottlieb are mentioned; why not Liz’s full name?

  2. Sorry, Paris. I will redo the spelling as suggested. And, I’m fine with naming Liz for consistency, no slight intended.

  3. Thanks for the broad overview.

    You might note that MomCentral received quite a bit of backlash last night because at first, all dissenting comments were removed and only two comments that agree with MomCentral were posted. She did not initially delete ALL comments.

    The most comments I saw on the site (MomCentral) at one time was 18. I commented twice and have copies of my comments. MomCentral began deleting comments not for profanity, but when commenters brought up her HFCS-Free ketchup posts. There was no profanity in the approved comments that were up for the afternoon and evening.

    @mindicherry (Twitter handle) and I both posted about the ketchup campaign, and both of us had comments deleted.

    People were tweeting about this using the hashtag #hfcs; a study of the @momcentral stream might be informative as well.

  4. Thank you, Milehimama. A study of the Tweets is a good idea as well – I will see what I can get from that – but later.

    P.S. Good luck with the next kid – in good health!

  5. She has promoted products that have been known to be harmful to women. Like the birth control drug Mirena.

    Excerpt from FDA letter below.

    “This party was brought to you by Mom Central in partnership with Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals’ Mirena which may help couples keep life simple!”

    Qouted from http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/EnforcementActivitiesbyFDA/WarningLettersandNoticeofViolationLetterstoPharmaceuticalCompanies/UCM197229.pdf

  6. John, when you say “she” are you speaking of Mom Central?
    The statement you quote doesn’t say that Mirena has been harmful- only that they marketed the product outside of FDA guidelines. I don’t want to get into a product discussion on that as I am not in a position to judge the product.

  7. Hi Howard, I want to clarify that I wasn’t riled because Mom Central took on two opposing accounts; her business practices are her choice and I didn’t even know it when I posted.

    I have been outspoken on the evolving relationship between marketers and bloggers, and I thought it was worth a discussion because I’d never seen a blog tour for a controversial lobbying group at all, let one one that played out quite like this. Originally I was just annoyed with the marketing effort as a whole. But as I looked further, I asked questions about culpability and responsibility on the part of the marketer, the blog consultant, and the bloggers themselves, some of whom didn’t even seem to understand the relationship into which they had entered.

    Interested to hear your students’ take.

  8. How about how Mom Central is the party that according to the FDA presented to women a “program [that] overstates the efficacy of Mirena, presents unsubstantiated claims, minimizes the risks of using Mirena, and includes false or misleading presentations regarding Mirena” says a lot. The FDA is talking about the people Bayer hired, Mom Central and a nurse to present this paid message from Bayer into the homes and minds of people.

    If you do not see any relevance between the FDA report and Mom Central now working with the CRA, you may want to look it over again.

  9. I did not say there was no relevance, John. You stated a product was harmful. The report cites a program that was not performed by FDA guidelines. These are two different things. I am, as noted, not in the position of having a law degree, medical degree or a uterus, all of which make me unsuited to judge the product mentioned.

    I am not turning this into a discussion about Mom Central’s work with Bayer. That report speaks for itself.

    You are entitled to draw *your* own conclusions as to how you feel about Mom Central, the companies they work with, or how they do their business.

Comments are closed.