Despite Sales Success, Campbell Puts an End to Soup Wars

New, Positive Campaign Will Aim to Draw Consumers to the Category

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CHICAGO ( --- Campbell Soup Co. is dropping its hotly contested comparative ad campaign against arch-rival Progresso -- even though the ads worked really well.

When the marketer launched its initial push for Select Harvest soup, it began with a taste-test ad in which a blindfolded woman tastes Campbell's brand and names farm-fresh ingredients, then names chemicals after tasting Progresso.

The approach worried several analysts, who fretted that the negative ads would bring down the entire soup category. But in late May, Campbell's fiscal third-quarter earnings showed sales of its ready-to-serve soups had jumped 4% over the previous nine months, a feat credited by CEO Douglas Conant to Select Harvest and its comparative ads. The larger category in which the brand competes, condensed soup, saw sales grow even more, up 6% over the same period.

But despite that success registered some three months ago, Campbell is moving from accentuating the negative to accentuating the positive in its new flight of ads for Select Harvest this fall. Why? The company maintains that the initial push for the brand was to build brand awareness -- which now measures at 35% -- by demonstrating what the product isn't. The next phase is designed to draw new or lapsed users to the soup category, by talking more about what the product actually is. So ads for the coming "soup season" breaking in September will focus on specific consumer concerns, such as healthful, minimally processed ingredients and easy-to-decipher labels.

According to the company, Select Harvest's initial campaign, created by BBDO, New York, was meant to show women over 35 how the product was different from Progresso. The General Mills brand fired back with a short, print-only comparative campaign of its own, depicting some Campbell's soups as containing MSG.

But now, Campbell is holding its fire. "As you well know, marketing plans and campaigns can shift from year to year," said Michael Barkley, Campbell VP-ready-to-serve soups. "You come up with strategy and plans based on consumer insights you expect, and you see what worked and what didn't through normal course of business." Campbell has said that the Select Harvest launch exceeded expectations. Now it's looking to build on that by promoting the product's specific strengths.

Mr. Barkley said that Campbell talked to "thousands and thousands of women" with the goal of designing a soup "for and by today's women." "They want real, wholesome ingredients," he said. "Ones they can pronounce and understand, like natural sea salt, pasta with whole grain, no artificial- and chemical-sounding ingredients." The result is a spot with ingredient lists written on skyscrapers, the inside of an elevator, and in skywriting at a beach. Mr. Barkley describes the ad from BBDO as "among the best we've ever tested" in connecting with the target demographic.

And it may have to be. Select Harvest generally sells at a $1 premium over its red-and-white label counterpart at Campbell, which enjoys well over 90% brand awareness. In the recession, that can be a tough sell.

Phil Lempert, the "Supermarket Guru," said a shift from comparative advertising sounds like a good idea for Campbell, given that his own consumer research has revealed that consumers are looking for foods with lower sodium, no MSG, and ingredients they may have in their pantry. "That's what Select Harvest has done really well," he said, in terms of the product's itself. "But I haven't seen that kind of focus in the advertising."

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