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Mm-Mm Militant: Campbell Goes After Progresso

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The competition between two of the largest soup makers got hotter.

In a category not known for vitriol, Campbell has launched an ad taking direct aim at its rival, General Mills' Progresso. An ad in today's New York Times shows a can of Progresso with the caption, "Made With MSG." Opposite the page is a picture of Campbell's Select Harvest with the headline: "Made With TLC," for Campbell's new, natural-ingredients soups. The MSG in this case refers to monosodium glutamate while TLC stands for "tender love and care." BBDO, New York, handles.

Why the salvo? General Mills' Progresso Light soups were a big hit in 2007, in part because of a Weight Watchers endorsement that gave the line a zero-point rating (that's good). The Minneapolis-based cereal maker introduced the soups in nine new Light varieties last month. Now, at the beginning of soup season, Campbell is on the attack.

"You have to give Campbell credit for taking advantage of the good, clean ingredients statement that they have on their soups," said Lynn Dornblaser, new products expert at Mintel, Chicago. "It's a very smart move to take that and [contrast] it to the MSG comparison."

So far, Progresso hasn't taken the bait. Recent ads by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, show Progresso trying to go after the male soup consumer. One ad shows a man eating soup in the kitchen while his wife watches. "Eating light?" the wife asks. "Light? No. Look at this. Big chunks of chicken, vegetables and pasta," he replies. The spots reinforce the fact that soup can be light and filling. Tagline: "Progresso. What a light soup should be."

Campbell's ad in the New York Times tries to achieve a different goal. It shows a smaller, 19-oz. can of Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle against a slightly taller can of Select Harvest Chicken with Egg Noodle. Dornblaser said the real focus of the ad isn't the can size, but contents of the soups. Instead of focusing on lower calories, Campbell stresses that its soups are natural, contain no artificial flavors and no MSG. "In addition, the products inside are comparable. You have chicken noodle and chicken with egg noodle. Even the pictures themselves on the fronts of both cans reinforce that. They're virtually the same thing," said Dornblaser, adding that Campbell is able to make the "MSG" claim because it positions the ingredients of the competing soups side-by-side.

The bottom of the ad has a coupon offer. "Text `TLC' to 467467 from your cell phone,'" the copy reads. The tagline follows: "Real Ingredients. Real Taste."

TV ads airing this month relay the same message. One spot, also via BBDO, shows a blindfolded woman, tasting two bowls of soup. A person in the background asks her to "describe the two soups, please." She digs into the first (Progresso's) and says, "Hydrolized vegetable protein. And MSG." She then samples the second