Food label designed by "neurological and bodily responses"


From the Wall Street Journal via Good: Campbell's Soup redesigns a label using "neuromarketing" techniques.

Campbell's New Neuromarketing


  1. Of course, these techniques would never be used in political advertising.

    Because Americans want Freedom(tm) more than anything. And the Freedom to choose Liberty is the greatest choice of all. Brought to you by American Freedom LLC and Liberty Coal.

  2. Yeah, but then I turn the can around and read:

    “Water, Potatoes, Cream (Milk), Onions, Wheat Flour, Modified Food Starch, Contains Less Than 2 Percent of The Following Ingredients: Salt, Dried Whey, Butter, Dehydrated Potatoes, Monosodium Glutamate, Vegetable Oil (Corn, Cottonseed, Canola &/Or Soybean), Soy Protein Concentrate, Yeast Extract, Flavoring.”

    And I say, no thanks.

    1. What in that list of ingrdients is a turn off? The MSG?

      My mom added cornstarch. Is that a crime?

      Soy Protein Concentrate? but its less than 2%!

    2. Umm, yeah. Almost all of those ingredients look fine to me. The MSG isn’t great, and were I shopping for canned soup I would probably pick another soup brand because of that. But I was honestly surprised that it had actual cream and not some hydrogenated product instead. Sounds like pretty decent canned soup to me.

      1. I haven’t looked at that particular variety, but my own deal-killer for nearly all canned soups is the 800+ milligrams of sodium per serving.

  3. Once again my past rises to haunt me. I worked in market research (mall intercept). I had to get out because of the rampant and inherent corruption. Rest easy, folks: the people who ran the eye tracker were reporting useless data. Very, very rarely do industry insiders recruit the right individuals, brief them properly or operate the device correctly.

    Executives at Campbells came up with the new design and then paid one or several market research firms to tell them what a good idea they had with ‘research data.’ The MR folks paid teenagers $5 – $15 to say what they wanted and sent them on their way.

    Insidiousness fail – corruption win.

    1. I’m interested to hear more about this “rampant and inherent corruption” and the market research industry. It’s a whole power/knowledge/control thing that I find thematically interesting.

      I’ve been reading Subliminal Seduction lately, and a lot of the specifics seem laughable but the idea that there’s a simple shortcut to influencing human behaviour is itself a seductive idea that keeps recurring in new forms.

  4. so… they spent some time and did some research that’s actually more appealing and will sell more cans of soup? I’m fine with that.

    Advertisers have been manipulating where our eyes look and in what order for years. Hell, artists have been doing for centuries.

  5. Butterfat, empty carbs, and a couple days’ worth of sodium.

    Dressing it up all pretty and wholesome-goodnessy is a premeditated crime against humanity.

  6. Yes the labeling is cryptive but forget about the neuromarketing for a sec…ALL these soups, gravies, sauces in these types of containers are IRRADIATED foods!

    They have indefinite shelf life and provide humans little, if any, nutrition — since all the enzymes and bacteria have been bombarded with toxic radiation.

    Are irradiated foods cancer-causing in the long run?
    I wonder… Mmmmm MMmmmm BAD NEWS.

    1. Um, what? Why would Campbell’s use expensive radiation, when old fashioned CANNING is what their business is?

  7. The funny/sad thing is that half of those changes probably would’ve been made by an experienced designer anyway. Garbage like “neuromarketing” exists mostly as CYA for suits. The justification is often more important than the change itself.

  8. Toxic radiation…

    Ok, you know, if you don’t understand physics, chemistry, or toxicology perhaps you shouldn’t be commenting on them in public like that.

  9. “The funny/sad thing is that half of those changes probably would’ve been made by an experienced designer anyway. Garbage like “neuromarketing” exists mostly as CYA for suits. The justification is often more important than the change itself.

    Ding, ding, ding. I’d say more than half. You don’t need to use eye tracker studies to know that the Campbell’s logo is the dominant part of the label. The difference in the new labels is not the eyetracking but a **decision** to make the logo branding secondary to the product category branding.

    Some “neuroscience” studies are amazing and counter intuitive, this one isn’t. It is just good design.

    1. Actually, it is counter-intuitive: If they had left the uniform, non color-coded band at the top then people who enjoyed their first Campbells soup can would purchase whatever the store had in stock. This way if the store is out of their preferred, easy to distinguish flavor the person will find the same flavor in a different brand instead of buying a different flavor of Campbells.

      Uniformity has existed in food packaging for a long time for good reason. Hence the sad failure of bagged cereal and the battle between boxed v. plastic-wrapped pasta.

  10. I think the biggest thing that would make me happy about Campbell’s soups is how the grocery stores deal with it. Alphabetize the damned things, and carry the full line! If I can’t get my Chicken Gumbo, your store has failed. If I can’t find it because you refuse to alphabetize it, your store has failed. Ugh.

  11. I work in this industry as well, and all those things are things we already do, with the exception of putting the logo on the bottom. Which will never ever happen BTW because when a brand is paying millions to get there logo on a pack, their logo will always be the biggest thing on there.

    Also People in focus groups really have no idea what they are saying or care. There is always one loud mouth who drowns out the other because they are egomaniacs. So to have these people decide what goes on a pack vs. someone who actually cares what it looks like. Remember the Homermobile from The Simpsons? would you rather have that or a car designed by Ferdinand Porsche? Think about it!

    Thanks for the post!

  12. Best solution for this kind of corporate manipulation, never shop hungry. It also pays to read the label and remember how bland it tasted the last time you tried it.

    BTW, thanks for my captcha. It seems appropriate: “From buttocks”

  13. On the subject of ingredients: yea, for a prepared food, this one isn’t actually too bad. Potato soup with potatoes as the second ingredient.

    Notice the lack of sugar or corn syrup. I didn’t even know you could buy canned or prepred food that wasn’t chocked full of sugar anymore.

    That’s not to say that this is “great for you food,” but it isn’t 1/4 as bad as most prepared foods, and if one were to make homemade soup, the ingredients wouldn’t probably be that much different.

    You could argue that one shouldn’t eat any pre-prepared foods, and you could probably make the argument pretty strongly. But in the universe of prepared and packaged foods, this one is surprisingly food-like.

  14. If there’s no spoon on the packaging, does that mean I can eat the soup with a fork? Or would that cause civil unrest?

  15. I think I like the old label better, for the following reasons:

    1.) It actually shows the product. The new label features beige soup, lacking detail, obscured by steam, in a beige room. The old label demonstrates that the soup has chunks of actual potato in it. The new label trades information density for emotional appeal — which actually makes a lot of sense, if you are a doomsaying misanthrope like myself.

    2.) The addition of yet another font to the label (and a handwriting-y font, to boot) is a crime against humanity.

    3.) The new label complicates categorization. As mentioned above, “alphabetical” is my preferred sorting convention for Campbell’s soup. With the addition of the “Classics” category, how are they now sorted? By category, sub-sorted alphabetically? Is my French Onion soup a “Classic”, or an “International Delight”?

  16. What Campbell’s fails to realize is that there is a large faction of consumers whose emotional response to their product would be much more positive if they made two changes:

    1) Remove High Fructose Corn Syrup from all of their recipes, and

    2) Put their soup in cans that aren’t lined with poisonous plastic (BPA)

    I could give two shits what the labels look like. What I care about is what I’m putting into my body.

  17. Euromarketing may work for chocolate, cheese, olive oil and dark beer but it won’t fly with the average soup-lover here. They’re so stupid.

  18. Well, it looks like all the new cat food that comes in satchels. I do not know about you, but I want all my soups in cat food satchels!

  19. Man, what’s with the rage against soup here? I don’t eat a ton of canned soup (2-4 cans per month, let’s say) but I find that Campbells Healthy Request are way better than Progresso. I was a little put off by the fact that they put chicken broth in their tomato soup though.

    I do agree that ingredients are a bigger selling point to me than the label. I just don’t see the point in getting angry over the fact that most people still don’t read the ingredients.

  20. I think my “neurological response” to this picture is something along the lines of “Ahhh #@%$! I’m out of spoons again!” Maybe that’s just me being lazy at washing dishes, but I imagine laziness IS correlated with amount of soup eaten.

  21. What Campbell’s fails to realize is that there is a large faction of consumers whose emotional response to their product would be much more positive if they made two changes:
    1) Remove High Fructose Corn Syrup from all of their recipes, and
    2) Put their soup in cans that aren’t lined with poisonous plastic (BPA)
    I could give two shits what the labels look like. What I care about is what I’m putting into my body.

    Ha ha. I’m willing to be persuaded by actual statistics, but I’d be very surprised if the number of people who care about BPA or corn syrup is a ‘sizable faction’.

    This could vary by region, I guess. Where I grew up, people care about ‘low fat’, and don’t care at all about organicness, so ‘low fat’ is what dominates the shelves. Where I live now in NJ, people care about ‘organic’, but couldn’t care less about whether the food is healthy (or perhaps they mistakenly equate ‘organic’ with health). I guess there could be a community somewhere that cares about corn syrup and knows what BPA is. Where is it?

    1. In my particular little corner of the woods, lots of people actively avoid HFCS and BPA.

      Maybe it’s a peculiarity of living in a college town with a large teaching hospital and large medical research campus.

      Regardless, the new label design is teh suck. It’s the preponderance of beige. It absolutely screams “unappealing” at me.

  22. OK here ya go, George and Moriarty — since you know SO much about eating irradiated foods.

    From Wikipedia:

    Food irradiation might
    – be used to mask spoiled food,
    – discourage strict adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices,
    – preferentially kill “good” bacteria, encourage growth of “bad” bacteria,
    – devitalise and denature irradiated food,
    – impair the flavour,
    – not destroy bacterial toxins already present,
    – cause chemical changes which are harmful to the consumer,
    – and, on top of all, is unnecessary in today’s food system.

    “Food irradiation is a pseudo-fix,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety in Washington, DC. “It’s a way to try to come in and clean up problems that are created in the middle of the food production chain. I think it’s clearly a disincentive to clean up the problems at the source.”[75]

    Processors of irradiated food are subject to all existing regulations, inspections, and potential penalties regarding plant safety and sanitation; including fines, recalls, and criminal prosecutions. But critics of the practice claim that a lack of regulatory oversight (such as regular food processing plant inspections) necessitates irradiation.

    [76] “[Irradiation] is a total cop-out,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. “They don’t have the resources, the authority or the political will to really protect consumers from unsafe food.”[77]

    While food irradiation can in some cases maintain the quality (ie. general appearance and “inner” quality) of certain perishable food for a longer period of time, it cannot undo spoilage which has occurred prior to irradiation.

    Irradiation cannot be successfully used to mask quality issues other than pathogens. However, as heat pasteurization (example milk), processing by ionizing radiation can contribute to eliminate pathogen risks from solid food (example meat or lettuce). Milk heat-pasteurization is not considered to be a method “to cover up poor food quality”; consequently, food irradiation should not be accused to serve such criminal purposes[74]. Under a HACCP-concept (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) radiation processing can serve and contribute as an ultimate critical control point before the food reaches the consumer.

    Opponents to food irradiation and consumer activists frequently state that the final proof is missing that irradiated food is “safe” (i.e. not unwholesome).

    Moreover, the lack of long-term studies should be a further reason not to permit food irradiation. Such questions, by the principle, cannot be answered by science as any scientist should have learned during his studies.

    Proving the absence of a negative is virtually impossible. For such reasons the basic question needs to be rephrased: What are the chances — the probabilities — that consuming irradiated food will in some way produce unhealthful effects?

    The scientific consensus is “very slim”.[78] A few quick answers to possible questions:

    Does irradiation change the chemical composition of whatever is irradiated? Of course it does. That’s why it works.

    (Some details in other sections of this article)
    Long-term studies have already been carried on huge numbers of laboratory animals, many species and multiple generations.

    No negative effects have been observed which could be correlated in a causal way to the irradiation treatment of the food. However, the absence of a noxious effect cannot be proven by the principle, even not in long-term studies.

    A further complaint is that animal studies cannot be transferred to humans.

    There are many more concerns of such kind and the answers have to be found by validating the scientific evidence.

    Of course and quite naturally, during the now more than 60 years of research into food irradiation and possibly harmful effects a number of publications have reported such deleterious effects among others as

    – polyploidy in malnourished Indian children
    – increase of aflatoxin production by irradiated miroorganisms
    – vitamin deficiencies at extremely high doses to the complete diet
    – non-vitamin effects at higher doses (free radiacals?)
    – change in chronaxie with rats
    However, those experiments could be either not verified in later experiments, could not be clearly attributed to the radiation effect, could be attributed to an inappropriate design of the experiment etc.

    In more recent experiments a number of new issues have been raised as

    – possible tumor promoting effect of 2ACBs in extremely high concentrations
    – ataxie caused in Australien cats by high-dose irradiated imported feed
    – multiple sclerosis caused intentionally in cats by high-dose irradiated feed
    – specific effects caused only in pregnant cats by high-dose irradiated feed
    In particular, for those very specific situations of those experiments it would be indispensable to defermine whether those animal models have any relevance for human nutrition.

    Typically, food as intended for human consumption is never irradiated at such extremely high dose levels; on the other hand, feed sterilization by ionizing irradiation is widely accepted standard in rearing of laboratory animals (eg. SPF-free) and in producing gnotobiotic animals for agricultural production.

    I am not a lab about you?

  23. nowayway, are you arguing irradiation is dangerous or not? Posting in reply to Moriarty makes it seem like you’re challenging his lack of concern, but the wikipedia article you copied seems much more supportive of the idea that there is no strong evidence that irradiated food is dangerous. In particular the sentence
    ” A large number of studies have been performed; meta-studies have supported the safety of irradiated food.[55][56][57][58]”
    trumps the many paragraphs of un-cited criticism and cat food concerns. (The whole concerns section is weakly written and poorly cited. Also, most of the complaints which are cited are people complaining about the political and regulatory oversight, not the technology itself. That’s like saying, “we shouldn’t drive cars because the police don’t catch all speeders.”

  24. I understand the reasoning behind it, but the steam doesn’t make the soup look warm, in my opinion. It makes it look like cold soup with really fake-looking photoshopped steam layered on top.

  25. I love all the people here who carefully read all the ingredients and if one little thing isn’t right it’s all “HELL F#CKING NO!!#()!$*()!$!!!”

    I occasionally look at the ingredients on something but only out of boredom. I figure that some naughty sugar, salt or fake stuff isn’t half as bad as the stuff I know definitely IS bad for me like vodka, smoking, sitting next to semi-evolved simians on the bus that appear to have acute respiratory problems or staying up well past my bed time to make some smart-assed comment on BB and then not getting enough sleep.

  26. Why do I look at this and think “cream of wheat”? Something about the steam obscuring the details, I guess. Also, the bowl has a breakfast-y look. Maybe this redesign would work better for me with a variety that was more obviously soup-like.


  27. Yeah, this happens for every single product package on store shelves. I worked on tons of packages for P&G, and they ‘neuro-test’ every single element of the package. Then they test them in a mockup of an actual supermarket (complete with musak and checkout counters) and have people walk past them and give their responses. Nothing new — just product market testing.

  28. neuromarketing is evil. even if it is able to pay for half-time work for otherwise failed academic neuroscientists.

    i’m not really a capitalist. however, even from my distance it seems that such efforts to reach inside the individual for access to decision-making machinery violates basic assumptions of capitalism. . . that is, that version of capitalism that could be a possible approach to the fair appropriation of resources and stimulation of production.

    the difference between neuromarketing and advertising is that the latter seems to maintain certain assumptions about the integrity of the individual as a singular unit.

    1. “neuromarketing is evil.”

      No, it isn’t. That is a ridiculous thing to say. Is it ‘evil’ to find out that people respond to tasty-looking food on a package? Is it ‘evil’ to color-code packages to help people better figure out which is which in a lineup of products?

      What this article is calling ‘neuromarketing’ has been done for virtually every product for the last 40 years. It involves designing a product package, showing it to people, getting their reactions, and using consumer input to design a better package. That violates ‘basic assumptions of capitalism’?

      Don’t make stuff up, c’mon.

  29. It involves designing a product package, showing it to people, getting their reactions, and using consumer input to design a better package.

    I can’t speak for packaging, but I can tell you for sure that focus testing of entertainment is totally bogus.

  30. I’m not making anything up.
    Eye tracking, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and evoked response potentials are very different from focus groups. Even when averaged across a sample, the data they provide are of a different nature.
    Asking a beta tester or research subject about their thoughts is very different from measuring the ballistics of their eye movements.
    I may be paranoid, but you are naive.

    1. As I say, this article far, far overstates what Cambell’s is doing. “Eye tracking” is commonly done by all major companies — often it’s simply done by showing someone a package and asking them to list what they saw first, second, and third. Ta da, eye tracking. Sometimes their actual eye movements are used, as well; again, this is nothing new. Paranoid corporations spend ridiculous amounts of money doing pointless ‘eye tracking’ tests, but they’d rather feel secure before spending billions on a repackaging rollout.

      I didn’t call you paranoid. Don’t call me naive; I know far, far more about this subject than you. Thanks.

      1. It’s true reality is not so black and white, and is more interesting. I love great advertising like you probably do. I grew up with it. Eye tracking is not really upsetting, nor things like blood pressure or heart rate. But higher bandwidth technologies may pose a higher risk. Things may go out of control with the merger of medical and commercial technology. Sorry, must now turn off my robot. . .

        1. Yes, that’s very true; and let me be clear — I agree with Steve Worth that focus-testing is essentially worthless and bogus, and technology like eye-tracking only serves to make brand executives more comfortable about greenlighting billion-dollar product redesigns. I’ve sat through weeks of bogus ‘product testing’ where each individual element of a package (logo, product shot, violators, labels, etc) was separated from the whole and consumer tested, then all the consumer-approved elements were shoved back together into a horrible frankenstein package design that’s somehow supposed to magically compel purchasing.

          All packaging & ads (and even websites) are rigorously tested like this these days, but no amount of eye-tracking or tech can replace a designer’s gut instinct or a talented artist’s eye.

  31. Look at the illustration to this article… it says that people were not “emotionally engaged” unless there was steam coming off the soup, and the spoon gave them no “emotional response”. Those are classic bogus focus testing results.

    I was part of a focus testing group at NBC once. It was the funniest thing I ever witnessed. People flat out do not tell the truth at those things. They say what they think the lady with the clipboard wants them to say. It’s a hilarious story, but it’s too long for posting in a comment.

  32. Potato soup is pretty quick and easy to make from scratch. So all you people who are SOOOOOOO concerned about the ingredients – google a recipee and buy some bloody potatoes and milk… or whatever else you want to put in it.

    On the actual topic…. I think Campbells should probably care more about differentiating it’s brand and leveraging the goodwill of that brand against other brands. So I think either the brand logo will go back up top or they’ll create some kind of super shelf logo to differentiate their products from the others.

  33. unfortunate. it’s a shame that newer products don’t have the money for label design. there was nothing wrong with the old label. guess it’s good that old companies are wasting money on new art. too bad that the ‘art’ in this case is even more bland than the old label’s. it took “more than two years” to create this washed-out looking label with the threatening red brand name moved to the bottom. shouldn’t affect their sales numbers at all (because their soup is in so many American recipes). what it will do is annoy the hell out of every grocery store employee being asked “where’s the soup?”.

    1. None of the potato soup recipes I’m looking at call for cans of soup as ingredients. Are you looking on the back of a soup can?

      Sometimes I make soup when I’ve forgotten to cook vegetables I’ve bought and they need using. My general method is butter/oil, plus leek or onion (fry a little), plus potato, carrot, squash, swede, parsnip (cook on low heat for a while), plus hot vegetable stock (cook on high heat), then optionally blend it. Add herbs and spices at some point. Add canned beans at the end if you want extra protein.

  34. No one else has said it, maybe it’s just me, but I like the old label better. It’s clearer and faster to read, and the picture looks like Campbell’s cream of potato, which I actually liked (especially with a large dose of good pepper) and thus am far more attracted to. “There it is!”

    If they wanted to sell more soup, save some money on advertising and figure out how to get the price back down(!) We almost never have soup anymore because it’s just too expensive.

  35. It doesn’t take neuromarketing or any other specialized scientific research or metrics to determine that Campbell’s existing labels were poorly designed to begin with. All of the modifications made to the design are obvious, any skilled design with a decent amount of experience would have produced similar results. Color coding the labels? It’s remarkable they weren’t doing this from the beginning. I envy the ad agency who was first in line to get this account, their sales team must have given a brilliant presentation.

  36. I miss the spoon. I feel like the bowl is saying “Look at this soup,” while the spoon was saying “Just look at it!”

    (Note to Campbell’s: Cream of Banana. Go for it.)

  37. Like a couple of the previous posts, I work in market research, and actually spend a lot of time running focus groups and designing just this sort of thing.

    Neuroscience is the trendy thing of the moment and thats cool but nothing here is really very innovative. It doesn’t take galvanic skin responses and fMRIs to figure out that people prefer the imagery of warm soup over cold, and have trouble telling packs apart from one another. It sounds like a company came to Campbells, sold them a methodology with flashing lights and pretty pictures, and whacked a couple of zeros on the bill. And some schmuck bought it.

    And for the record, people in focus groups can have an idea on what they’re saying and can care about pack design. A good researcher will actually recruit those people for the research for just that reason. Mouthing off about loudmouths and people not caring in a focus group kinda sounds like you don’t really understand what’s going on and take what happens there at face value.

    And didn’t Homer design the Homermobile, not a focus group?

    1. It sounds like a company came to Campbells, sold them a methodology with flashing lights and pretty pictures, and whacked a couple of zeros on the bill. And some schmuck bought it.

      Exactly this. If you’re a brand exec at Campbells looking at the largest packaging overhaul in the company’s history and a ‘neuroscience’ company says “hey, before spending a billion bucks on that, why not spend $30k on a few days of galvanic skin response testing to make sure that consumers are responding to the new label?” Sure, easy sell for a nervous executive.

      I’ve been in some very helpful focus groups. Getting a design out of the pressure-cooker of an ad office and in front of people can be incredibly enriching. It can also drive you bonkers as the brand manager next to you says “See? They hate the design. I knew I was right.”

    cough. or if you like casserole i was actually thinking of
    one my mom taught me – this is close enough:

    bet you two years of tweaking Americana like that just using (ar rocks)
    would have been better for their shareholders.

    as a mere customer i just want to know what’s in the can.
    @anon #57 – i agree, price matters.

  39. The funny thing to me is that recognizing a prepared-food package is kind of a learned thing. Whenever they change the packaging I no longer recognize what I’m looking for and I end up buying generic or something else entirely. It *completely* backfires, in my case.
    Of course, I have leveled up and I NEVER buy soup in a tin. I make my own. That shit isn’t even potable, as far as I’m concerned. Plus they can’t learn how to use a starch other than wheat flour to thicken the soup. n00bs don’t know ’bout my sprue!

  40. I prefer the old label. It was simple and concise. Of my several modi operandorum, the one I use most is a check order of, price > content > pricer per unit (this more of a double check than anything) > item picture on label.

    Other than when I’m broke as hell (thusly eating lots of Raman noodle), I avoid most things with high salt content as they tend to pickle my tongue after a bit. And thusly it muddles the taste for me.

    Any time I can, I cook from scratch. My spices are the 2nd thing unpacked anytime I move (1st being the pots, dishs & etc)

  41. I think that the spoon is necessary. It allows me to eat the soup in real life, and see the potatoes on the can.

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