Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Seeds = tomatoes = soup

Campbell's Condensed Soup has been one of the most well-known and respected names in the food world for a long time -- a trusted and traditional brand. By giving away tiny tomato seeds, they're forging concrete connections between the product they're best known for, the real food that goes into it and the farming that makes it all possible.

Andy Warhol's famous images of the canned soup portray the brand as nothing less than a work of art.

My most vivid memory of Campbell'
s soup growing up is a little more low-brow. It is the kitchen drawer full of the red & white labels that my mom (and millions of others around the US) saved to raise money for the school library. Campbell's "Labels for Education" Program has been going on for more than 30 years and provided over US$100 million in educational equipment to schools.

Campbell's current promotion is something completely different. Visitors to the website are able to enter a code off of a can of soup and receive free tomato seeds in the mail that can be grown at home. Seeds are also donated to the Future Farmers of America (FFA). The goal is to give away enough seeds to grow a billion tomatoes!

People who send away for the free seeds will also get two really
concrete messages that are important for Campbell's and everyone else in the food business these days:
  1. there's 'real' food in my canned food (real tomatoes in my soup) and
  2. it actually takes quite a bit of care and attention to grow that food -- to turn a seed into a tomato.

Ideas about what 'Food' is and where it comes from have been getting progressively abstract over the past decades.

People live in cities farther from farms and rural places where they might be able to see agriculture 'happening'. Nutrition guidelines have become more scientific, emphasizing different kinds of fats and vitamins in our food instead of ingredients. Technology's role in developing new varieties of crops an
d producing food more efficiently contributes to the abstraction.

We seem to want to regain some concrete connections to what we eat every day. This program is a great way for a food company to help people just do that. Real seeds make real tomatoes make real soup.

P.S. More about this later, but I stumbled upon this campaign while looking for agriculture and food stories that are 'sticky'. My very favorite communications book is "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and this is a fantastic example of the principle of 'concreteness'.