Okay, there's isn't actually any sex in this story, but it's still pretty tart and juicy. Two leading manufacturers of cranberry products are duking out in court and online, with claims and counter-claims of deceptive advertising and related social media subterfuge. It's pretty ridiculous, kind of funny, and fairly pathetic, but also a great illustration of how companies -- even manufacturers of fairly mundane agricultural goods -- will push ethical boundaries online.
The feud between Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. and rival Decas Cranberry Products Inc. came to light in a high-profile social media imbroglio last week, but it actually began well before that. According to the Boston Globe, Ocean Spray is suing Decas for allegedly infringing on its patent for sweetened dried cranberry products, and it seems that Decas has chosen to hit back in the arena of public opinion.
Decas created what appeared to be a non-profit www.scamberry.info, which redirects to www.scamberry.info, accusing Ocean Spray of misleading consumers about the nutritional content of its sweetened dried cranberry product, called Choice. Specifically, Decas claims the first ingredient included in Choice's list of ingredients should be "sugar," not "cranberries," because "the product is mostly sugar -- according to Ocean Spray's own product literature sugar contents can go as high as 80%. Plus, instead of a full cranberry, it only retains the cranberry's skin."
The site, created on the advice of PR firm InkHouse, has a stripped-down, non-corporate look which could certainly pass for an earnest consumer advocacy organization. The attack on Ocean Spray takes a rather dramatic, moralistic tone, which I can't help but find sort of absurd given the subject matter: "When companies abandon their values, stray away from their mission, and focus blindly on profits, they affect all of us. Sometimes greed happens on a grand scale, and sometimes -- with something so small and so precious as the cranberry."
Ocean Spray is not amused, accusing Decas of deliberately misleading consumers by failing to disclose its connection with the site, or the fact that it is engaged with ongoing litigation with Ocean Spray over this very product. Ocean Spray says the site makes use of Facebook pages and Youtube videos in a way that suggests it is a non-profit advocacy group with popular support -- in effect, a grassroots movement -- when in fact it is a corporate PR platform. There is a decidedly amateur-ish feel to the Facebook and Youtube content, but I couldn't say whether this is by design or merely reflects the "PR on a shoestring" approach (probably both).
Today Decas finally admitted that it was behind the site, which it describes as a "consumer education website." Decas president and CEO Chuck Dillon was quoted by the Globe as opining in folksy fashion: "I don't know much about social media. If I'm so deceptive about it, why did I launch it [the campaign] under our own name today?"
Indeed, Dillon can't know much about social media if he thinks this B.S. explanation is going to convince anyone. The timing of events makes it pretty clear that the site was intended to deceive: it was launched on July 16 and existed for over a week, during which time it was promoted via all manner of social media with no hint of its connection to Decas. Decas finally "launched" the campaign "under our own name" only after several days of growing media attention driven by heated criticism from Ocean Spray. It's worth noting that, while Decas may have admitted to its connection with the site, the company's name still doesn't appear anywhere on www.scamberry.org. Following the link for Jordan Lewinsky, the site's designer, brings the visitor to a Hebrew-language site which I can't make heads or tails of; however, I am pretty sure it's not the Decas corporate site.