Campbell’s new ad campaign for “Campbell’s Go Soups” has been making rounds across the internet, and the feedback has ranged from jeers to…well, jeers. Campbell’s new campaign focuses on marketing soup to the Millennial generation- or, people born from around 1984 to about 2000, although the numbers vary depending on who you ask. During this campaign, Campbell intends to shift its ad focus to the digital market, as well as physically re-brand the product itself. Instead of the boring old “soup cans” that our Baby Boomer parents used to use, Campbell is experimenting with the “soup pouches” like the one pictured above. Campbell is also rolling out a new Tumblr blog/website to promote its “Campbell’s Go Soups” products, as well as a Facebook page and a partnership with popular websites Buzzfeed, Spotify and Funny or Die to help reach out to Millennials.
What Campbell is doing to their soups reminds me of what Coca Cola did in the early nineties with “OK Soda.” “OK Soda” was very short lived, poorly received soft drink aggressively marketed towards Generation X. The ads leaned heavily into ironic, offbeat material in order to reach out to its target demographic and often times they resorted to negative publicity to give the drink an “edge” in its image. It was a colossal failure, being cancelled 7 months into its kickoff.
Is this the exact same scenario? Of course not. OK Soda’s campaign was in a pre-digital ad world, so Coca Cola didn’t have the chance to create a Facebook page devoted to it or to partner up with Spotify to create “Ok Soda-inspired” grunge-filled playlists. But the idea is the exact the same: appealing to and capturing a particular demographic by pandering to their (perceived) interests. The idea is to get the desired audience to see themselves in the product so that they can see themselves using the product. Advertising embeds personality and character into products, and the goal is for the consumer to either readily identify with the product or want to identify with the character within the product. For example, wearing shoes made by Gucci conveys an identity of luxury and wealth over wearing shoes made by K-Swiss, even though they’re both just shoes and they serve the exact same purpose. When buying a product, you are also buying into an identity; it’s a basic advertising principle.
OK Soda was appealing to Generation Xers by trying to become the embodiment of Generation X (based on various stereotypes.) However, a common complaint of the “OK Soda” ads were that they were too overt in its tactics to woo Generation X-ers, and that it might have been the campaigns undoing. This type of aggressive marketing may come off as disingenuous to consumers who would see the ad campaign as pandering to them to the point of mockery. In OK Soda’s case, it was their anti-advertising ad approach, believing that Gen Xers disliked brands and advertising, that might have led it to fizzle out. It also doesn’t help that Coca Cola didn’t focus their ads or time on the taste, but more of the “feeling” of the drink, which is just as ridiculous as it sounds.
In Campbell’s case, it could be these “hipster-inspired” soups that feature young women doing a “duck face” pose or shouting out the words “Holla” that will be seen as too overt in its message. Campbell making an effort to focus on digital advertising is great, and other companies who haven’t made the jump should take notes. However, attempting to market soups specifically for Millennials (or Gen Xers for that matter) seems like a poor attempt at making your product seem “hip” or “cool” to them. Instead of creating a product personality around a generation, make a personality all of its own that will stand the test of time. By all means, Campbell should keep its focus on social media for advertising. But ditch the design, Campbell’s Soup. You have a good idea, and the flavors sound great. But don’t do what Coca Cola did with OK Soda.
And for the love of the advertising gods, don’t tell consumers that you will just be focusing on “feeling.”