Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Big Soup

Another child of the capitalist system has grown up to darken the horizon. It's Big Soup.

The Campbell Soup Company is serious about causing you to buy soup. And 'causing' seems to be the right word. Ilan Brat, in a piece titled The Emotional Quotient of Soup Shopping, published in the Marketplace section of today's Wall Street Journal, tells the story of the Campbell Soup Company's two-year-long project to cause you to buy more soup.

It turns out that there are squads of folks dedicated to finding out how you feel about soup. And it turns out that they can't simply rely on the method that suggests itself: asking you how you feel about soup. How come? Campbell CEO Doug Conant notes, ruefully one suspects, that when folks are asked why they eat soup or why they don't, they "say they don't think of it." That seems to be good news. It's unclear what exactly a world would look like in which all of us had sound and articulable reasons for why we do or don't eat soup, but it seems like it would be worse than this one.

There are other challenges for the soup investigators. For example, they can't get reliable information from folks about which soup labels are memorable, which are effective, and which aren't. Not that they haven't tried. But when they conducted interviews for the purpose, the interviews "didn't fully capture their [the interviewees] unconscious responses." That also seems to be good news for those of us not in the Campbell Soup Company's executive suites. If there is one thing we can yet have a reasonable expectation of privacy about, it would be impressions we don't know we have, but do.

What's a soup company to do? Apparently, use neuromarketing techniques to ferret out consumers' hidden impressions. Neuromarketing techniques have their limitations (more good news). For example, researchers can measure emotional responses in subjects, but not what the underlying emotions are. Also, the generally small sample sizes convenient for neuromarketing testing means oulier data can be mistaken for the norm. Be that as it may, here's how Campbell has used neuromarketing techniques:

"Researchers interviewed about 40 people at their homes and later in grocery stores. The team [of researchers] also clipped small video cameras to the testers [the folks corralled for the interviews and the study] at eye level and had them later watch tape of themselves shopping for soup. Special vests captured skin-moisture levels, heart rate, depth and pace of breathing, and posture [while the testers faced the grocery shelves filled with soup cans]. Sensors tracked eye movements and pupil width."

The upshot of this research? The Campbell folks think they can "boost sales by triggering more emotional responses in stores and prompting more people to focus on more soups."

And they came up with this: aside from the three iconic labels, rendered that way by Andy Warhol (chicken noodle; tomato; and cream of mushroom), new labels will feature steam rising from the "larger, more vibrant pictures of soup", which now will be contained in "modern, white bowls." Also, the spoon that heretofore held up the soup in the foreground of the labels, having been condemned as "unemotional", will go away.

I suppose this is all all right, or in any case, the way things are. But I confess a hope that at least some of the testers faced up to the shelves while hooked up to the electronics and got amorous thoughts about past lovers. That way, and mindful of the inability of the technology to detect particular emotions, researchers may have attributed really strong emotional responses, erroneously, to a bisque label or some such.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

Poor Cambell! They've been doing this crap at least since the 1950s when a woman at their ad agency BBDO (her name might have been Bernice Fitzgibbon, but don't hold me to that) tried to persuade the world to eat soup for breakfast.

There are some semi-reliable methods of testing advertising power. For example, you can show half a group of people movies with soup commercials, the other have movies without. On the way out the door, offer both group a choice of coupons, among them savings on soup. If one group does better than the other...

Well, you get the idea.

But attaching electrodes to heads and eyeballs, measuring sweaty palms, MRI-ing skulls to see which part glows in the middle of a soup pour shot — that's selling ad agencies and advertisers hope, usually at six or seven figures a shot. Kind of like the "research" that goes into taking a company named, say, Consolidated Hose Nozzle with a logotype that shows a hose nozzle, and renaming the joint Fligature, with three parallel wavy lines.

The rationale for that'll cost you maybe two million bucks, and taking the advice will make you both au courant and totally forgettable in the marketplace.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank