“Here’s How We Buy Soup!” – Campbell Soup Company Ad Campaign in the 1910s

Figure 1: Campbell’s Soup Cans (Andy Warhol, 1962)

         Do you recognize this(Figure 1)? Currently displayed in MoMA, Manhattan, this work of art by Andy Warhol marked the booming era of pop art movement in the US.

Figure 2:
Figure 2: “Mm Mm Good!”(1935)

For contemporary Americans, the subjects of this work are no strangers to them. Of course, once as “America’s favorite food”, this kind of quick and convenient soup has accompanied every American’s dietary life since 1869. Its iconic white-and-red can and famous “Mm Mm Good!” jingle are also deeply embedded in American people’s memories.

Once world’s largest food company in the 20th century, Campbell’s Soup Company now has 16 sub-brands and sells almost 2 billion cans of soup every year. Investing heavily in its ad campaigns since inception, the successful models of marketing and advertising of Campbell’s Soup are also widely acclaimed by the public and industry. Next, we are going to pierce its advertising strategies by illustrating one of its successful ad campaigns – Here’s How We Buy Soup! in 1912.

Figure 3: “Here’s How We Buy Soup!”(1912) 

Advertising Environment /Social Force

Dating back to the 1910s, the scientific and technological development brought by the Second Industrial Revolution quickened the pace of industrial production. Machine production gradually replaced manual labor in more and more industries. High efficiency of mass production became possible and people emancipated from heavy manual work were given more leisure time to enjoy life and improve their living standards. “Science”, “Efficiency”, “Health” and “Modernization” could roughly summarize Americans’ desire towards life and society(Sivulka, 2012:80-95).

At the same time, as the Progressive Movement continued, though women in America were still striving for their equal suffrage,  more and more women threw themselves into work,  winning greater autonomy and independence.

More leisure time and demand for higher-standard life boosted people’s desire to purchase. Meanwhile, advanced technology revolutionized products’ manufacturing and packaging process and laid foundation for the next step – mass retailing. More and more chain stores opened in the urban area and promoted mutually with the emerging consumer economy back then(Sivulka, 2012:83-84).

Campbell Soup Co.’s Strategies

Aiming at the environment and social force at that time, Campbell Soup Co. adopted a series of strategies in its ad campaigns. Taking “Here’s How We Buy Soup”(Figure 2) as an example, it’s not hard to find that the skills used in this ad could also been seen in Campbell Soup Co.’s contemporary and later campaigns.

  1. Scene Play/Storytelling

Figure 4: “Such Perfect Bullion”(1912)

– “What’s the use lugging all that truck just to make soup? I wouldn’t
do it”

           – “We have soup every day. And any time my folks forget to order it, I just run around to the grocer’s myself; and bring home half-a-dozen of Campbell’s Soup.”

From the illustration on the top and the conversation followed, the ad gives us a whole scene of two kids coming across each other and talking about- soup. So-called “editorial style”, such advertising strategy has been widely adopted since 1900s. Back then, print ads with illustrations often created a scene play, or told a story with information of the products embedded.

So is Campbell’s Soup Co.’s another ad- “Such Perfect Bullion” from the same year. Same model of advertising is also adopted. It’s worth mentioning that besides direct promotion of the product in the scene plays, such ads also provided basic information of the products. In almost all the ads of Campbell’s Soup in the 1910s, clear and direct information like “21 kinds, 10 c a can” and the soup’s ingredients are all listed at the bottom of the ads (Figure 5).

Figure 5:
Figure 5:”21 Kinds, 10 c a can”

By claiming that Campbell’s Soup was “real vegetable soup” and listing all the ingredients onto the ads, Campbell’s Soup established a frank and healthy image to its consumers. What’s more, it also catered to American people’s pursuit of health and living standard in the 1910s.

2. Target Consumers: Working Moms

Figure 6: “When Do We Eat?“(1912)

The increasing proportion of working women derived a new group – working moms. Reflecting to these moms who didn’t have enough time to prepare breakfasts and kids who refused to eat, Campbell’s Soup adopted a strategy to solve these moms problem. Considering women and especially working moms as its main consumers, there’s no need to explain why the two characters in “Here’s How We Buy Soup” were kids and why there was sentence read “My mother says so and she knows.“in the ad. – Talking about peer influence.

Similar strategy could also be found in an ad called When Do We Eat? launched in 1912. A large percentage of Campbell’s Soup ads in the 1910s adopted children as their characters. Such purpose of attracting moms was also a factor of the birth of “Campbell’s Kids”.

3. Personality: Campbell’s Kids

“Campbell’s Kids” were designed by a Philadelphia illustrator Grace Wiederseim in 1904 for Campbell’s Soup Co.’s serial streetcar ads. Since released, the chubby, rosy-faced kids immediately attracted moms deeply worried about their kids’ poor appetite. In addition, as a result of the high aesthetics of “Campbell’s Kids”, they received huge favors from the public and were reproduced as dolls,  postcards, interior decorations and a series of side-line products. “Campbell’s Kids” also became the company’s spokesperson and appeared frequently in almost every Campbell’s Soup campaign .

Figure 7: Campbell's Kids
Figure 7: Campbell’s Kids


4.Middle Class Dream

Figure 8: “America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans“(1919)

One tiny detail: have you noticed that the kids in “Here’s How We Buy Soup” and “When Do We Eat?” were all dressing daintily? And this quote in the ad(Figure 2):

  “– So does Pop; he travels and eats at the big hotels all over. And he says they never give him soup as good as Campbell’s.”

Dainty clothing, fancy hat, dog and traveling all over at “big hotels“, aren’t they the most common impression of middle class?

Like most of the contemporary and even current ads,  Campbell’s Soup designed all its characters as white middle- and upper-class Americans. With the development of economy and people’s increasing demand, becoming a middle- or upper- class American is every working-class American’s next target. In Campbell’s 1919 campaign named America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans, there are thirty two people in the printed ad; twenty women, ten men, and two kids were all neatly attired. The enticing images and values promoted by Campbell’s Soup attracted more and more Americans with their middle class dreams to purchase its soup.

5. Revolutionizing Americans’ Eating Habit

Like what “Here’s How We Buy Soup” promoted:

“It’s a snap, too. So easy. No fussing and waiting when you’re hungry. And you couldn’t make better soup to save you.”

ready-to-eat and convenience is Campbell’s biggest selling point.  Nevertheless, its sameness of taste by mass production remained a disadvantage. To solve the problem through advertising, Campbell’s made such claim in its 1919 “America overwhelmingly prefers these pork-and-beans.”:

“Years ago tastes for beans varied in different parts of the country. Certain sections were justly proud of the way they cooked and served them. But today there’s no doubt whatever about the pork-and-beans the whole country prefers.”

In addition to developing 21 flavors of soup to choose from, Campbell’s adopted a strategy which revolutionized Americans’ eating habit. In stead of adjusting its own products, Campbell’s persuaded its customers to trust what “the whole country prefers” and accept mass-produced food. With the theory of psychology, Campbell’s Soup once again convinced its consumers.

With the rapid development of radio and TV broadcasting, brands were given various platforms to advertise. Interestingly, some of the strategies could still be seen in up-to-date ads. However, given specific environment and historical background, it’s not hard to see that a brand’s marketing and advertising strategies always tailor to its time and society.


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