Campbell’s Soup Neuromarketing Redux: There’s Chunks of Real Science in That Recipe

About a week ago, the Campbell Soup Company publicized a bold redesign of its iconic label with the assistance of neuromarketing. Pundits promptly predicted brand suicide, decrying the company for using pseudo-science.

Campbell's Soup

About a week ago, the Campbell Soup Company publicized a bold redesign of its iconic label with the assistance of neuromarketing. Pundits promptly predicted brand suicide, decrying the company for using pseudo-science.


Is it true that Campbell spent two years studying only “microscopic changes in skin moisture, heart rate, and other biometrics to see how consumers react to everything from pictures of bowls of soup to logo design?”

Is it true that Campbell’s would be so madcap as to base such a major decision on only 40 subjects and opt for new technologies over tried and true consumer feedback? That would seem like a recipe for brand suicide. It’s an (mmm-mmm) good thing Campbell’s was smarter than that.

According to Matthew Tullman of Merchant Mechanics–one of three firms on board for the redesign campaign–various teams were brought in at different stages to conduct different types of analysis, and each interacted with the other to triangulate the data. Those three agencies were Innerscope Research Inc., Merchant Mechanics, and Olson Zaltman Associates. The goal was to determine not just what consumers said but also what they thought and what they did.

By the end of the two-year study, over 1,500 subjects were interviewed and tested using multiple methodologies–which ranged from traditional consumer feedback to cutting edge neuromarketing techniques. Also, they participated in a deep interview process called ZMET (The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique). “ZMET interviews helped the Campbell’s team to contextualize the biometric measures that were used,” Lindsay Zaltman, Managing Director at Olson Zaltman Associates, said.

Merchant Mechanics was brought in at the end of 18 months to relate actual in-store consumer behavior to Innerscope’s biometrics and to the findings of the deep interviews. Tullman’s team used a combination of proprietary micro facial expression analysis obtained by in-store cameras, in-aisle eye tracking and pupilometry, and intercept interviews. His team never made it to the Wall Street Journal interview, though, because a snowstorm grounded their flight.

Tullman stressed that the type of cutting edge technologies used in the Campbell Soup campaign by his and Innerscope’s firm complement and enhance traditional methods of market research.


Dr. Carl Marci of Innerscope Research, Inc. points out, “Companies that rely exclusively on traditional measures, focused only at the conscious level, are missing a critical component of what drives purchase behavior. The vast majority of brain processing (75 to 95%) is done below conscious awareness. Because emotional responses are unconscious, it is virtually impossible for people to fully identify what caused them through conscious measures such as surveys and focus groups.”

Many argue that the new label design could just as easily been arrived at by a savvy designer with good instincts. Perhaps. After all, understanding that a steamy bowl of soup is likely to elicit a positive emotional response isn’t much of a leap.

The extensive research and data did much more than offer a hot and steamy upgrade. The end result offered many things that savvy design or consumer feedback alone could not have predicted. This fall, consumers can expect their soup shopping to be easier and more emotionally enjoyable than it is with Campbell’s current label. Flavor and style will be easily distinguished, and the familiar red logo will still be there. However, the logo will be smaller and out of the way in the scan and selection process, and the updated images will tap into emotions that consumers already associate with and want to feel about soup.

And those classic labels forever linked to pop art and Rockwellian home life? Don’t worry–Campbell was smart here too. The classic label will remain on three soups.

Was this a case of a mere marketing fad masquerading as science meant to mesmerize corporate clients more than consumers? Campbell’s synchronizing of careful research done by three agencies–research which triangulated two years of data gathering and statistical analysis–looks a lot like genuine science.

Jennifer Williams is a social media strategist with a long-time interest and educational background in psychology and neuroscience. This has led to an intense interest in exploring how the social sciences, particularly evolutionary neuroscience and neuromarketing, can inform Web marketing and social media strategies. She blogs on the topic here.