Taste-Testing Campbell's New Hipster Soups
A few months ago I smirked my way through an article about Campbell's Soup's quest to remake themselves for the Millennial generation, which has tragically stopped buying canned soup. The company's new CEO commissioned a research group earlier this year to travel to cities like San Francisco, Austin, and Portland to learn what the kids were eating these days. Their research yielded the fact that the kids like "bold, adventurous flavors," and thus the bold, adventurous Campbell's Go soups in handy microwavable pouches were born (because, per Monday's Ad Age article on American eating habits, Millennials are also too lazy to make anything as complicated as a bowl of cereal).
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The soups have been in supermarkets since August, but yesterday Campbell's sent around a press release about their new "communal table" group events -- basically focus groups -- featuring Millennials sitting around tables in New York and Chicago talking about soup (a favorite activity of my generation):
"A different group of ten Millennial consumers (aged 18 - 34) will convene at each table for an hour-long session to enjoy a six-course sampling of the new Campbell's Go soups and discuss a topic chosen by the host."
Not to be left out of the fun, I assembled my own Millennial focus group in the SF Weekly offices (i.e. several hungry staffers). Because of budget and time constraints, we tried only two flavors: Chicken & Quinoa with Poblano Chiles, and Moroccan Style Chicken with Chickpeas.
Both packages warned us of the soups' excessive spice levels ("are you chicken, or can you take the heat?"), which our tasting panel did not detect. What our 18-to-34-year-old taste buds did discover were notes of chemicals, off spices, and a lingering aftertaste of plastic. These soups are not very good, even with their grab bag of "edgy" ingredients. Also, despite our generation's love of convenience, no one liked the plastic pouches ("It looks like a barf bag," someone commented).
Even sadder than the soups themselves, however, is the "youthful" marketing campaign, with its Tumblr site rife with animated GIFs and terrible jokes, and, even better, a Spotify outreach program. Per the press release:
"The [Spotify] partnership will enable users to create synergies between the music and the soup flavor -- for example, a playlist of songs that are all about cheese will align with Campbell's Go Creamy Red Pepper with Smoked Gouda soup."
Yes, Campbell's, the way to reach the youth market is through playlists of songs that are all about cheese. That will definitely work.
It's painful to watch this whole thing go down, because Campbell's has spent so much time and energy chasing this idea of what they think Millennials want, based on hours and hours of market research and focus groups, that they've lost sight of the fact that we don't need a damn Tumblr for our lunch, we just want it to taste good. With its iconic packaging and association with so many childhood memories, Campbell's has brand recognition that other soup companies in the category would kill for. As one of the Millennial tasters on our panel put it, "Why don't they just make their good soups cool?"