by Anna Lappé
This past weekend, biotech giant Monsanto paid bloggers $150 each to attend “an intimate and interactive panel” with “two female farmers and a team from Monsanto.” The strictly invitation-only three-hour brunch, which took place on the heels of the BlogHer Conference, promised bloggers a chance to learn about “where your food comes from” and to hear about the “impact growing food has on the environment, and how farmers are using fewer resources to feed a growing population.” Though the invitation from BlogHer explicitly stated, “No blog posts or social media posts expected,” the event was clearly designed to influence the opinions — and the writing — of a key influencer: the mommy blogger.
Another invite-only event in August will bring bloggers to a Monsanto facility in Northern California for a tour of its fields and research labs. Again, while no media coverage is expected, the unspoken goal is clear.
Stealth marketing techniques, such as these by Monsanto, reveal how the food industry — from biotech behemoths to fast-food peddlers — is working surreptitiously to shape public opinion about biotechnology, industrialized farming and junk food.
The uptick in these stealth-marketing strategies coincides with growing popular outcry about agricultural chemicals, soda and junk food and genetically modified ingredients.
Monsanto is not the only food company engaging with the blogosphere. Mommy bloggers are the food industry’s newest nontraditional ally. McDonald’s has been wooing them aggressively too, offering sweepstakes in partnership with BlogHer for the company’s Listening Tour Luncheon, an exclusive event with the head of McDonald’s USA — framed as a two-way conversation about nutrition, but more likely a gambit to garner the support of a powerful group of influencers. And in Canada, McDonald’s offers All-Access Mom, behind-the-scenes tours of the company’s inner workings.
It’s not just through blogger meet-and-greets that industry is attempting to sway opinion. Video is an increasingly popular (and shareable) medium for PR disguised as content. This summer, for example, Monsanto is funding a Condé Nast Media Group film series called “A Seat at the Table.” According to a casting call, each three- to five-minute episode will cover questions such as “Are food labels too complicated?” and “GMOs: good or bad?” and will feature “an eclectic mix of industry and nonindustry notables with diverse viewpoints.” It’s hard to imagine truly free-flowing discussions resulting, paid for as they are by a company with a definitive take on — and stake in — the food-labeling wars.