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'God is in the details': Campbell soup chief energizes marketing

By Published on .

A recent trip to a Cherry Hill, N.J. supermarket with Jeremy Fingerman, Campbell Soup Co.'s newly named president-U.S. soup, finds him pacing along the soup aisle, shifting cans. He's here to visit one of the 25 test shelving units developed to ease the soup-shopping experience and amplify the Campbell brand in store.

Each problem he encounters-from faint type on display cartons to the space gaps around the shelving unit-energizes him, seeming to provide the telltale signs of how he might succeed and, despite years of declines, actually improve the company's soup sales.

"God is in the details," he said. "You can dream up all you want, but what it boils down to is `how does it look for the retailer?' "

The trip offers insight into Mr. Fingerman's passion for the brand he believes "consumers have a love affair with" and his hands-on approach to spearheading consumers' rediscovery of it.

The just 42-year-old Harvard Business School grad is charged with reawakening American consumers to the glories of soup in a can (especially Campbell's bread-and-butter condensed varieties.) But the rediscovery he is pushing for really starts inside the company's conservative Camden, N.J., headquarters, where he is brazenly espousing a "breakthrough mind-set" that calls for boldly innovating across new-product platforms, advertising and, of course, in-store shelving.

breaking paradigms

Mr. Fingerman, a nine-year veteran of Campbell, has pulled a formerly separate innovation group under his watch as part of a reorganization he said brings "more formality to a cross-functional leadership team."

Such a change is crucial enough to have sparked a hypothetical debate on whether or not to "blow-up" typical department-separating seating, and a suggestion to place R&D next to supply-chain folks, for example. Mr. Fingerman said that while the seating arrangements won't necessarily change, the discussion itself shows Campbell's acknowledgement of the need to "break current paradigms and look at a different way of organizing." Included in that is ramping up with a "higher level of talent," he said.

Mr. Fingerman's is a three-pronged strategy to remind consumers why and when they want to use Campbell soups. Of course, he says, "soup is the superior simpler meal," but the company clearly must prove that to consumers through a combination of "successful, winning, high-quality products; compelling, persuasive communication; and executing in-store with excellence."

Easier said than done, of course, but Lehman Bros. analyst Andrew Lazar said, "If there's anyone who can find ways to innovate and grow per capita [soup] consumption in the U.S., it's Jeremy." However, Mr. Lazar notes, "that task may indeed prove too big." Campbell's condensed-soup sales fell 4.7% to $1.1 billion in 2002. Ready-to-serve soup, which makes up far less of the company's overall profits, is up 7% to $1 billion.

recipe for success

Mr. Lazar pointed to Mr. Fingerman's dynamism, his clear understanding of the business given his long tenure and his ability, despite historical precedent, to think outside the box, as reasons he could succeed. Campbell is indeed still looking for a replacement for president-North American soup, a position vacated last fall by Andrew Hughson (himself the last president of U.S. soup).

On shelf now, Mr. Fingerman said, is an unprecedented amount of new news, from 10 improved vegetable-soup varieties (part of CEO Doug Conant's transformation plan reinvestment) to the new line of single-serve heat-and-eat soups dubbed Soup at Hand. As he meandered down the soup aisle, he pointed to a large section of "specialty" soups and noted that "organic is no longer a small business off to the side ... it's taken shelf space away from us." Campbell is currently eyeing ways to get into that growing premium segment. The company will soon launch a boxed premium soup dubbed Campbell's Gardennay in Canada, which Mr. Fingerman plans to monitor closely for possible U.S. expansion. The rollout of refrigerated and frozen soups via its Stockpot unit (which currently sells under the Stockpot name in club stores) is "on the strategic horizon." The challenge, however, is that getting the core business back on track takes first priority in terms of investment.

`pursuing good ideas'

As for communications, Mr. Fingerman said, "we are aggressively pursuing good ideas from wherever they come." Reaching back into its archives, Campbell this holiday season re-aired an old ad from the early '90s, "Snowman," that internal research suggested still strongly resonated with consumers. The move was a success, as the spot was rated No. 12 last year by Intermedia Advertising Group, which measures which ads consumers recall. But at the same time, Campbell is getting its feet wet in a new tactic: outdoor advertising. Although he swears it is not a shootout, Mr. Fingerman assigned three separate agencies to develop outdoor efforts in three cities (not so coincidentally Mr. Fingerman's birthplace of Cincinnati; his current hometown, Philadelphia; and the city where his sister lives and home to his alma mater, Boston.) Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, a former Campbell agency, Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, which handles its condensed-soup account, and WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, which does Chunky ads, have each produced outdoor campaigns.

The idea behind the assignment, he said, "to get the best thinking and apply it to a medium I've been intrigued by." Outdoor is bigger on the agenda as is radio because, he reasoned, "I for one am watching less TV."

Back at the shelf, Mr. Fingerman continues to tinker with cans. "My wife won't go the store with me anymore," he admits. The shelf concept clearly hasn't been perfected, with holes where banners calling out flavor-grouping such as kid-targeted Fun Favorites or Vegetable varieties should be. But, Mr. Fingerman said with a confident, winning grin: "We're trying things. They're thoughtful and strategically sound, of course, but we are trying things."

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