Soup, Sex and Sports: Campbell’s Soup & Gendered Marketing

“M’m for giant hunger!” a pleasant female voice croons in Campbell’s latest commercials for Chunky soup. The 30-second spots feature Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants, who is surprised on the sidelines by a large mascot (his mother and grandmother in disguise) bearing a bowl of Jammin’ Jerk Chicken Chunky soup. As Cruz obeys the maternal voice demanding that he eat the soup, we see mouth-watering close-ups of tender chicken and rice and hear the woman assert, “M’m for giant hunger!”–a play on Campbell’s iconic tagline: “M’m! M’m! Good!”

These latest commercials reinforce traditional notions of gender, showcasing as they do a hungry male football player–a symbol of masculinity–and a maternal figure providing nourishing food–a classic representation of femininity.

Campbell’s has historically targeted male and female consumers differently, in a manner which reinforces gender differences and appeals to both sexes. When selling to women as consumers, for instance, Campbell’s emphasizes women’s appearance and dietary concerns. Consider this ad:

Campbell’s soup ad, Look magazine 1971. Courtesy of Christine DeChaves, who discovered a cache of old magazines in her attic.

Reclining on the beach in bikini bottoms, the young woman’s shirt reading “M’m! M’m! Good!” carries multiple connotations. It refers to the iconic Campbell’s tagline. But, emblazoned across the chest of a recumbent, half-dressed young model, it also objectifies the woman’s body, implying that she exists to be sampled and savored like the soup. At the same time, seeing a long-legged model in a bathing suit, most women consumers are immediately reminded to be conscious of their own figures and food consumption. (And, of course, Campbell’s ads remind women that soup is slimming).

Campbell’s soup advertisement,1969.

In contrast, soup ads targeting men featured NFL players and other masculine athletes to emphasize that soup satisfies even the most manly man’s hearty appetite. 1960s and 1970s ads flirted with sex appeal and gender differences when selling soup; at the same time, Campbell’s market research revealed a “male meal dilemma.” Studies showed that men encountered difficulty finding “convenient, satisfying foods that taste good and that they feel good about eating.” Executives saw the newly developed Chunky–ready to serve from the can–as a viable solution.

Using the tagline, “The soup that eats like a meal,” Chunky ads targeted bachelors. In this typical mid-1980s commercial, the male medical interns are responsible for preparing their own meals. Women nurses appear briefly at the end, as bystanders impressed by the doctors whose consumption of Chunky soup make them alert and attractive, the ad implies.

By 2005, Campbell’s altered its marketing strategy, moving away from football and sports to feature men in occupations traditionally defined as masculine, such as construction work or ranching. A new campaign started in 2008 used ads that showed “everyday” men hard at work and sometimes alone with boys with a tagline: “A man’s got to eat. He just wants to eat better.”

The present Cruz commercial is a revival of what became known as Campbell’s “mama’s boy” campaign campaign: ads showing mothers or wives foisting soup on their grown, NFL-playing sons. Implying that women hold authority as nurturers, these ads reinforce notions of traditional gender roles.

Not only are the ads are blatantly gendered, but Campbell’s products themselves are gendered. The Healthy Request line, for instance, is marketed to health-conscious (or weight-conscious) women. Chunky, “the soup that eats like a meal” has traditionally targeted men as consumers. But, since recent market research shows that women typically purchase groceries, the most lucrative ads–like the “mama’s boy” campaign–incorporate women as supporting figures, even when the ads target men. And because research indicates that women purchase Chunky, too, Campbell’s has begun to place ads in women’s magazines.

Curiously, these Chunky soup ads directed toward women differ from the mainstream tv ads–they don’t include football players but emphasize that Chunky uses lean cuts of meat and a serving of vegetables. Why does Campbell’s feel compelled to advertise identical types of Chunky soup differently to men and to women?

The reinforcing of traditional ideas about masculine and feminine behavior troubles me, especially in these pre-election days. Does the revival of conventional and highly limiting ideas about gender in advertising–portraying women as caregivers and cooks and men as strong, active sports figures that need to be nourished–reflect or portend a trend towards social conservatism?

3 Replies to “Soup, Sex and Sports: Campbell’s Soup & Gendered Marketing”

  1. lovely – thanks for the credit. i knew these would be helpful to someone. great quality scan too, particularly for a color half-tone. probably only 150 lpi to begin with. Early (1971)… but I wonder… it could use the Holladay algorithm:

    _ i+l j+l
    A[i,j] = 1/9[i,j] – Σ Σ A[u, v].
    u=i-l v=j-1

    so if α< 0, the array increases the difference of A [i, j] from its neighbors. And you get, well a whole bunch of fun algorithms that produce different effects/ qualities for diff. levels of print. Dithering, dot diffusion, ARIES…

    looks great! very fun 🙂

    1. I have so much more to write using other ads from those magazines–I just need to carve out time to do it. Thank you so much for thinking of me and sharing them. Where other people might see dirty, yellowing magazines, I see a portal to the past. Love it!

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