How Campbell’s Conquered Holiday Marketing with Green Bean Casserole

Nov 20, 2018

This Thursday, over 20 million Americans will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and dig in to green bean casserole. At the same time, Campbell’s sales of Cream of Mushroom Soup will skyrocket. Its website traffic will spike. An incredible 40 percent of annual Cream of Mushroom Soup sales are for use in green bean casserole.

Campbell’s can attribute the staying power of green bean casserole on Thanksgiving menus to a few critical holiday marketing 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, NJ, 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.

Sadly, Dorcas Reilly passed away on October 15 at the age of 92 but her recipe and legacy live on.

Bake your product into the culture

Through Dorcas’ recipe, Campbell’s landed one of the most coveted spots in marketing by cementing itself as part of popular culture. Its product was positioned as an irreplaceable part of a holiday celebration.

Others to follow Campbell’s lead: Bud Light and its “Philly Philly” campaign connecting its product with the Eagles’ Super Bowl win or Docker’s and casual Fridays.

Recognizing Campbell’s “recipe” for success, other hoppers-on quickly began vying for a similar connection to the recipe. That includes French’s Crispy Fried Onions and Green Giant Green Beans, which recently staked its claim by setting a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest green bean casserole.

But Campbell’s doesn’t mind—it knows what works. Fresh versions of the casserole existed before Reilly’s easier version. Some even suggest she was inspired by a version she may or may not have tasted on a train ride from Baltimore to Philadelphia.  

While over the years consumers have made the Casserole their own with healthy—and even Paleo—versions, Campbell’s has stayed tried and true, preserving the exact same recipe that was released back in 1955.

Elevate your offering with holiday marketing

That consistency gives families a chance to make it their own. It’s a great starter recipe for kids, or a first-time holiday guest. Every family has a secret ingredient or special approach that takes green bean casserole from simple side dish to celebrated holiday tradition.

As Campbell’s head of communication 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.”

Long story short: For companies looking for brand capital and sales longevity, Campbell’s offers a condensed lesson. Holiday marketing has a special draw. Attach your product to a holiday or tradition and reap the rewards year after year.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Stuart Maeder.

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