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Campbell's Wins Round in Soup War v. Progresso: MSG Ads Nixed by NAD

The National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureaus has asked General Mills to stop ads for its Progresso soups even though it admits the ads are "literally truthful." Progresso's advertising was challenged by Campbell Soup Co. The ad in question (by Saatchi & Saatchi) said:

Campbell's has 95 soups with MSG; Progresso has 26 delicious soups with no MSG.
NAD noted that, in fact, both companies' MSG soup lineups look like this:
  • Campbell's: 95 soups with MSG; 124 that don't
  • Progresso: 50+ soups with MSG; 26 that don't.
NAD noted:
... less than 50% of Campbell's soup varieties contain MSG whereas more than two-thirds of Progresso varieties contain MSG, including the best-selling Progresso soup, (traditional chicken noodle).
NAD then made a jump, and concluded that most consumers seeing the Progresso ad would assume it was Progresso soups that are mostly MSG-free and Campbell's that are stuck in the dark ages of laboratory created food, when in fact on average it's the other way round -- Progresso is behind the curve.

BNET's take: The good thing about NAD is that whether you agree with its decisions or not, at least there's someone out there systematically trying to figure out whether food marketers are barefaced liars. (Officially, it's the FTC's job, but it often doesn't have the speed, resources, or legal backing to do the task properly.)

In this case, however, NAD may have gone off the rails. Certainly, Progresso's selection of facts favored its own brands over those of Campbell's, but it wasn't lying. It wasn't even using statistics -- it was simply relying on America's historic uselessness at math. That's not a crime.

Besides, in this case there was nothing stopping Campbell from publishing its own attack ad. In fact it did, and you can see the entertaining result in the clip from The Colbert Report, below.

And note that the Progresso ad appeared in newspapers -- a reminder that if you want your ads to make news, the dead-tree medium ain't dead yet.

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