How Campbell’s conquered holiday marketing

Cooking up an iconic dish isn’t easy, but consistency, simplicity and just a dash of nostalgia are smart ingredients to start with.

Campbell's holiday marketing genius

While many traditions will be altered this year, one will remain.

On November 26, more than 20 million Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and dig in to green bean casserole. Most of those dishes will be made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. An incredible 40 percent of annual Cream of Mushroom Soup sales are for use in green bean casserole.

How did Campbell’s earn this coveted spot at the family table? The recipe for marketing success reveals three essential ingredients: consistency, simplicity and just a dash of nostalgia.

A Thanksgiving side dish for the masses

The original green bean casserole recipe dates back to 1955. Dorcas Reilly was a home economist working in the Camden, New Jersey, Campbell’s Soup test kitchen. She was tasked with creating a recipe using ingredients any post-war home cook, rich or poor, would have on hand.

Her answer: the ‘Green Bean Bake’—a mixture of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, canned crispy fried onions and frozen green beans. Her masterpiece was printed across the back of every Cream of Mushroom Soup can sold. The dish received almost instant fame. It wasn’t the first recipe for casserole. Some even suggest she was inspired by a version she may or may not have tasted on a train ride from Baltimore to Philadelphia. But what made it stick was its simple ingredients that never changed.

Dorcas Reilly passed away in2018 at the age of 92. But her legacy—and her recipe—live on.

Baking your product into the ulture

Recognizing Campbell’s early success, other competitors jumped in. That includes French’s Crispy Fried Onions and Green Giant Green Beans, which staked its claim by setting a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest green bean casserole. While they gained some exposure, they couldn’t compete with Campbell’s cultural staying power and nostalgic roots. Over the years consumers have adapted the casserole to fit diets like vegan, paleo and more, though Campbell’s core dish has stayed tried and true, preserving the exact recipe that was released back in 1955.

That cultural consistency tends to build on itself. As John Faulkner, director of brand communications for Campbell’s, puts it—keeping it simple means that, “You probably have a high confidence level that you’re not going to screw it up. Especially if you’re new to the family.”

The Takeaway: Table share leads to market share   

For companies looking for brand growth and sales longevity, Campbell’s offers a condensed lesson. There are only so many spots on the coveted holiday table.  If you’re lucky enough to attach your product to a personal, emotion-packed holiday tradition, don’t mess with success. Stand your ground, and your competition will be green with envy.

Hugh Braithwaite is CEO of Braithwaite Communications.

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