MARTY THRASHER CAMPBELL SOUP

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Marty Thrasher was running on adrenalin last September as he discussed the major new ad campaign for Campbell Soup Co.'s core red-and-white line.

"This isn't the old, comfortable, nice-guy Campbell anymore," he said at the time. "We're taking bold steps to reaffirm the relevancy of soup."

Indeed. The company soon began its new ads, shelving the familiar "M'm! M'm! Good!" tagline in favor of "Never Underestimate the Power of Soup."

Ad spending was jacked up 40% to an estimated $70 million. And in a prescient move, skater Nancy Kerrigan was signed on as a presenter.

The new campaign was the first new effort by BBDO Worldwide, New York, after it won the account back in an agency realignment overseen by Mr. Thrasher, president-U.S. soup.

He's taken other bold steps since then, such as creating new labels that use photographs for the first time in the nearly 100-year-old brand's history. Mr. Thrasher even promises "fundamental changes in how we go to market."

Any nervousness he felt last summer over tinkering with an American icon has turned to exhilaration today. Soup sales rose 4.5% to $1.7 billion in the 52 weeks ended Jan. 2-key consumption months-and the products are setting new levels of brand awareness, quality ratings and popularity among younger consumers.

According to Information Resources Inc., the soup category overall is up 4.2% to $2.5 billion for the 52 weeks ended March 20, driven in large part by Campbell.

"When I was a kid I watched `The Three Stooges' and had Campbell's tomato soup every day during lunch," Mr. Thrasher, 43, remembers. Today, he's playing a much bigger role in making sales.

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