Life has never been a bowl of peaches for canned-food brands. Even if you look past the fact that canning arose as a cheap and easy way for Napoleon to feed his armies, canned foods have a dubious legacy: Cans are for Spam, for hobo stew; it’s the food you stash in the basement in case of an emergency.
And then there’s the question of freshness, especially when it comes to canned produce. Perhaps the biggest hurdle that can brands have had to overcome is consumer presumptions that the fruit’s not fresh—certainly not on par with its just-picked counterpart. Even today, over two centuries after the introduction of canning, “there’s still an idea that there’s something strange or otherworldly about buying your food in a metal cylinder,” said Andy Havens, an advertising instructor at the Columbus College of Arts & Design and also a veteran adman and writer. “We don’t open it with any expectation that it’ll be better than the fresh variety. We expect canned food to be about 80 percent as nice as fresh.”
And as these 1924 and 2013 ads make clear, fighting that expectation is a task that has engaged brands like Del Monte for a long time. Yet while these two ads deploy similar tactics to impart the freshness message—the bright colors, the plump peaches on the tree—that message as a function of marketing has evolved. As Havens put it, “The 1924 ad is the great-grandfather version of the new ad. The first is aimed at intellect, the second at emotion.”
When this early Del Monte ad appeared in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal, canned foods were still something of a novelty in the American kitchen. Canned peaches were known as “rainy day” items—what you used when you couldn’t get to the grocer for fresh ones. Aware of this fact, Del Monte’s task was “to educate and intrigue,” as Havens put it—to convince mom that even her standby choice was still a wholesome one. Early ads like this stressed that the peaches were “California grown,” and that Del Monte itself was “Not a Label—But a Guarantee” of freshness. Packing the page with drippy copy and bright photos—the weighty cluster of peaches on the bough, the bowl of them below and the can in the center—Del Monte “wanted to convince people that canned food wasn’t inferior,” Havens said.
Fast-forward 89 years, and the freshness message is still there but operating on a different level. Since Americans are now fully familiar with canned food, the explanatory imperative is gone. What remains is a softer, subtler riff on the earlier sell. The can itself, its label gently modified, is familiar and nostalgic. The copy’s minimal. And we’re down to one branch and one peach—one that we see clearly falling into the can. Picked and canned: nice and simple. “They don’t want to overload the message,” Havens said. “Just put the idea of peaches into the audience’s head at some point before they go shopping.”
You know, just to stock up on some canned peaches for the basement.