New Campbell's Soup ad campaign combines two old memes


A new Campbell’s Soup digital billboard lit up Times Square September 17. Passers-by can be excused for having a certain sense of déja vu – or, more accurately two senses.

Derivative execution

That’s because the board itself – along with the five television commercials, nine print ads, two widget applications and umpty-ump tweets, online videos and other social media exposures that join it as part of the campaign – is doubly derivative.

It’s like a hybrid of the seven-year-old Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign and the 41-year-old Kung Fu television series starring David Carradine (see photo). In it, an eight-year-old boy takes over Keye Luke’s role as Master Po.

This boy – called “The Wisest Kid in the Whole Wide World” (sound familiar?) – has a long, long blond beard, sits atop a presumably Himalayan mountain and offers pseudo-Zen advice such as, “When the mouth slurps, the belly smiles” to parents distraught over how to keep their children happy at mealtime.

Smart strategy

The strategy’s wiser than the execution.

One trap that marketers often fall into is positioning their product only against direct competition, which in this case would be other condensed soups – not exactly a big-time kids’ food category.

Campbell avoided this trap by considering competition as a whole – namely, whatever kids eat instead of their soups, such as chicken nuggets, pizza, mac and cheese, or burgers, a spokesman said by e-mail.

Research showed, perhaps counterintuitively, that among all their mealtime choices, kids rank soup among their favorites.

“[K]ids love soup—slurping noodles, dunking sandwiches, spelling words, scooping up veggies,” says Ed Carolan, Campbell’s president of US retail – though how they can do any of that (except maybe dunking sandwiches) with a variety like beef broth or cream of celery soup isn’t exactly clear.

The idea of the campaign is that parents will find the claim that kids like soup more believable coming from another kid, albeit one with a rather unbelievable long beard.

Choose your competition wisely, grasshopper

There’s a strategic lesson here for all marketers, and that’s to look at not only direct, but also indirect competition (and sometimes that indirect competition can consist of buying nothing).

In Campbell’s case, a share conquest strategy – of taking over a larger share of the condensed soup category – probably had much less to offer than a category expansion strategy – going after the wider world of kids’ foods, from pizza to burgers to nuggets.

It’s like the difference between positioning, say, a yoga studio against just other yoga studios and positioning it against all other forms of fitness and exercise.

Gaining a small share of a bigger category can often be more profitable than gaining a bigger share of a small one.

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