What Marketers Can Learn From Campbell's Easily Avoided Sodium-Label Suit

In Marketing, Just Because You Can Do It Doesn't Mean You Should

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We told you so. And we're going to keep telling you so, over and over again until you get it. Just because you can do something in the marketing world doesn't mean you should do it.

The latest case of a marketer following the letter of the law to a dumb-as-dirt decision resulting in an inevitable legal dust-up is Campbell Soup Co. vs. Rosa Smajlaj, et al.

Long story short: Campbell labeled cans of tomato soup as having 25% less sodium. The plaintiffs in this case bought said cans thinking they were getting a soup with 25% less sodium than Campbell's regular tomato soup and, in some cases, were paying a premium for the product. Turned out the 25% less-sodium tomato soup had the same amount of sodium as the regular tomato soup.

Campbell, for its part, said the labels were accurate and within the bounds of FDA guidelines. It was simply comparing the tomato soup to an average of all available condensed soups.

The plaintiffs don't see it that way. The claim "25% less sodium" on a can of tomato soup said to them that it had 25% less sodium than a can of regular tomato soup. Especially since, according to the lawsuit, some of the labels said "25% less sodium than regular condensed soup." You'd need to be a Talmudic scholar -- or someone in Campbell's legal department -- to know that the comparison was to all condensed soups.

And that 's the decision of U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle, who ruled the class-action lawsuit can proceed after Campbell sought to have it dismissed. Industry lawyers, of course, are worried that this will set a precedent that increasingly aggressive class-action lawyers will pounce on. (To speak plainly, we kind of want to smack them all.)

This could have all been avoided fairly easily. Someone at Campbell could have simply said, "Hey, this is not how consumers read labels. You know it. We know it. Sure, it's legal, but we shouldn't do it."

We've said before that with the obesity epidemic and a sea of activists, lawyers and politicians looking to do something about it, marketers should go out of their way not to give any of the latter an excuse to sue or legislate.

Marketers can't control the actions of the lawyers and activists, but they can control their own.

One more time: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it.

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