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PROGRESSO SOUP tells soup lovers what they're missing.

The Memo

Consumers weren't ladling out enough Progresso Soup. During the 1997-98 "soup season" (September to March), sales of Progresso slipped 6 percent from the prior year. How could Pillsbury get more people to try the brand and boost revenue?

The Discovery

After reviewing its existing research on soup lovers, Pillsbury went out to talk to consumers, primarily women aged 25 to 54, including those who eat Progresso products and those who don't. In focus groups conducted by Marketing Corporation of America, researchers learned which attributes or feelings people associated with Progresso. Some participants mentioned Progresso's distinctive flavors and premium ingredients; others talked about its Italian name. The qualitative research also found that most consumers who buy Progresso discovered it as an adult, often stumbling across it one day in the soup aisle at the grocery store. The Progresso label, with its appetizing picture of steaming soup, caught their eye and they added a can to their cart for the heck of it, they said. After one spoonful, they were converted.

Problem was, not enough grocery shoppers were crossing over. Condensed soups (Progresso requires no additional water or milk) account for two-thirds of the market, according to ACNielsen data. Many focus group respondents who didn't eat Progresso recalled fond childhood memories of slurping down alphabet soup on wintry days. And for the most part, their pantries today were still stocked with the same condensed offerings that they enjoyed growing up. Progresso didn't make kid faves like alphabet soup. The campaign needed to remind consumers that Progresso was a soup for adults, a step up from the condensed varieties of their childhood.

The Tactics

Nelson-Henry developed 30 ad ideas for Progresso, and focus groups helped narrow the list to three campaigns. Further qualitative research uncovered what worked with consumers. First, people loved humor. One spot, called "The Lunchbox," featured a young male office worker eating a bowl of condensed chicken noodle soup (the can is a clear knock-off of Campbell's). Sitting next to him is a kid-style lunchbox. An older female colleague teases him about what he's eating and for clinging to things from his childhood. "You're an adult now," she chides him, and suggests that he try her bowl of Progresso chicken noodle, with its all-white-meat chicken and chunky veggies. There's even a side-by-side comparison of Progresso and its condensed-soup competitor. The tagline "Discover the Better Taste of Progresso" reflected insights from consumers about how they felt like they had "discovered" the brand, and also hit on the soup's exceptional flavor.

With Ipsos-ASI, Pillsbury copy tested two campaigns with consumers. "Discover the Better Taste of Progresso" clearly excelled in relaying the intended message and persuading participants to try the brand. A national TV campaign was launched in October 1998, prime soup season, targeted to women aged 25 to 54. To complement the TV spots, Pillsbury sponsored a "Great Discovery" contest and invited consumers to submit their favorite recipes for homemade soup. The grand prize winner will inspire a future Progresso offering. The brand's blue label also sparked an idea for a "Blue Is Better Sweepstakes," in which all of the giveaways had some connection to the color blue (the grand prize was a blue Volkswagen Beetle).

The Payoffs

During the 1998-99 soup season when the advertising was on air, Progresso sales rose 12 percent. Regression models indicated that 60 percent of that gain was due to the new campaign. Ad tracking by Winona Research also showed that awareness for Progresso hit 48 percent, an increase of 17 percentage points prior to the campaign.

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