Exclusive: Campbell bets $100 million on edgy ad effort

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campbell soup co. is counting on a pushy TV talk-show host, a cocky teen rapper and a $100 million budget to pull it out of a soup slump.

Food Network's Gordon Elliott, known for showing up unannounced on the doorsteps of unsuspecting people, stars in Campbell's reality TV-inspired campaign, breaking Aug. 18.

In the latest attempt to boost its core condensed-soup business, the marketer replaces its trademark homespun ads with edgier ones. Commercials show Mr. Elliott bursting into the homes of real families at mealtime to suggest they "Make it Campbell's instead." In three scripted spots, Mr. Elliott enters the homes of 16-year-old rap star Bow Wow, TV hostess B. Smith and celebrity chef Sandra Lee.

The campaign, from Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, centers on a strategy dubbed "Tasty Tuesday" that Campbell developed as a way to offer its soups as an easy weekday meal solution. The initiative, tested during a 13-week trial in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year, features a mix of e-mail and newspaper-insert recipes, drive-time radio spots and in-store displays featuring recipe cards and ingredients.

The test was so successful, according to Mr. Elliott, that the campaign-initially intended only to include basic red-and-white soup varieties-has been extended to include Campbell Premium, Campbell Select, Soup at Hand and new Good to Go products.

door knockers

Mr. Elliott said the knocking-on-doors tactic "is a device that has been very successful on TV as a programming tool." Now, he said, "Campbell is using it as a commercial tool."

TV ads are tailored for specific audiences. The ad featuring Bow Wow, who takes on Mr. Elliott in a game of hoops, is a bid to tap the "latent equity" of Campbell's as a kid brand. The company's aim is to turn to its advantage the jabs rival Progresso takes in ads that portray Campbell soups as kids' fare, said Ken Harris, partner with marketing consultant Cannondale Associates.

Mr. Harris, who works with Campbell, said the kid strategy is part of a serious effort by the marketer to be more strategic about how it reaches consumers. "Even Campbell would admit it hasn't been doing that," he said.

The Bow Wow spot dovetails with the launch of kid-targeted varieties of Campbell's Soup at Hand line, including pizza, taco and Mexican noodle flavors. Campbell's kids-oriented Fun Favorites line has seen upward sales growth this year and the company plans to promote the line via ads and in-store promotions. Sales of Campbell condensed soups fell 6.3% to $1.08 billion, for the period ending June 15, according to Information Resources Inc.. Ready to serve soup sales were up 5.3%, to $1.04 billion.

One Wall Street analyst who viewed the new campaign said it is "different in content, but whether it creates a buzz with consumers or not is the $99 question, and what they're up against is the general trend away from eating at home."

Campbell will try to address that with spots for Soup at Hand that feature Mr. Elliott running through intersections to put the portable soup in drivers' hands. "Nothing works better than letting real people tell you what they think," Mr. Elliott said.

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