Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

I don't consider myself a particularly "manly" man, but when I watch the ads for Campbell's Chunky soup, I can't help but feel beguiled by the sweat-reeking, ass-kicking aura of machismo that (apparently) defines Campbell's Chunky. Of course, they're not serious about all this, right? Eating Chunky doesn't make you more of a man.
Does it?

Actually, it seems a lot of people think it might. Since the campaign started in 1997, the Chunky brand has seen "double digit" growth — and it's increasing each year, as Campbell's hires more NFL stars to grunt and sweat in their commercials (the total is now 8).

Apparently, consumers are buying the message, which might seem laughable if it didn't include the lovable humility implied by the presence of the players' real-life moms, serving them the steaming bowls. The conflation of meat-head and momma's boy apparently strikes a chord with male buyers, but there are some serious contradictions at work here.

The Senior Brand Manager at Campbell's thinks people relate to the professional athletes because they are representative of the consumer. Because they like lifting weights? Or enjoy football? No; because they love their moms.

"Our eight NFL players are incredibly talented, good-hearted guys, who truly exemplify the Chunky brand and our consumer ... and we can't forget about how they look out for mom, too."

Wait, I thought it was mom who did the looking out, bringing Donovan McNabb a heaping bowl of meat and noodles after a tough day pumping iron. And since when is being a macho athlete synonymous with being a big softee at heart? What if Powerade tried to sell its drinks with that message?

The beauty of the Chunky marketing campaign is two-fold: it is both a serious appeal to manliness, and a self-deprecating look at the absurdities of marketing. We're talking about soup here — nothing that you eat with a spoon is ever in danger of seeming stereotypically macho, unless it's motor oil. The ads are aware of their own silliness, which leaves viewers that much more vulnerable to the real (and ridiculous) message that soup is a manly food.

The ads also cast a massive net of appeal by telling consumers that all you have to do is love your mom, and that makes you a Campbell's Chunky kind of guy. Is it silly? Yes. But is it also brilliant? Absolutely. I mean, I love my mom. Don't you? Let's celebrate by eating some Broccoli and Cheddar.

The Chunky campaign has worked flawlessly for nearly a decade, but it's being revamped to accommodate Campbell's new line of Chunky soups, called Chunky FULLY LOADED. These commercials have a decidedly harder, more macho tone, with less of the lovable silliness of the old. There's no telling if that adjustment to the formula will lure even more buyers — or if, like manliness, there's only so much beef that's appetizing in one sitting.