NAD Examines Advertising Claims For Progresso Soups, Following Challenge By Campbell Soup Co.

New York, New York – August  4,  2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that General Mills, the maker of Progresso brand soups, discontinue comparative advertising that communicated inaccurate messages regarding Campbell soups and MSG content.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined advertising claims in print and Internet advertising, following a challenge by Campbell Soup Company.

An example of the challenged advertisements consisted of a print advertisement depicting side-by-side images of a can of Campbell’s soup and a can of Progresso soup (both chicken noodle).  Above the can of Campbell’s soup, there was text stating “Campbell’s has 95 soups with MSG.”  Above the Progresso can, the text read “Progresso has 26 soups with no MSG.”

The challenger asserted that the General Mills advertisements for Progresso Soups convey the message that large numbers of Campbell soups are made with MSG, as compared to  Progresso Soups with no MSG.  These claims, argued the challenger, are misleading because they imply that Progresso soups are a better choice for consumers looking for a soup without MSG.   Moreover, argued the challenger, they suggest that Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle soup does not contain MSG.

The advertiser explained that the challenged advertising was part of an advertising campaign designed to correct misinformation about Progresso being disseminated in Campbell’s advertising for its Select Harvest soups.  According to the advertiser, the challenged advertising truthfully and accurately informs consumers that there are 26 varieties of Progresso soups that do not contain MSG, and that Campbell’s has more than 90 varieties that do contain MSG.  The advertising also stated that Progresso is removing MSG from the remainder of its soups.  The advertiser maintained that the advertisements do not compare or reference the relative percentages of soups sold by each company that contain MSG, but rather communicates basic facts that are truthful and accurate.

NAD examined advertising that included a consumer-perception survey commissioned by the challenger. NAD noted certain flaws in the survey methodology; in the absence of reliable consumer perception data, NAD stepped into the shoes of the consumer.

NAD noted that, while it is literally truthful that “Campbell’s has 95 soups made with MSG” and “Progresso has 26 delicious soups with no MSG,” a consumer may understand the claim to communicate any number of messages about the brands and their relative MSG content, including the inaccurate message that Campbell’s soups are more likely to have MSG than Progresso soups, or that most Campbell’s varieties have MSG or a greater percentage of Campbell’s soups than Progresso soups have MSG. 

NAD found that, although the advertising does not expressly state anything about the respective percentages of varieties of that contain MSG, the comparison, which associates MSG with the competitor, conveys implied messages that were not supported by the underlying evidence.  NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue the challenged advertising

General Mills, in its advertiser’s statement, said it “respectfully disagrees with NAD’s finding  that the claim conveys a misleading message to consumers about the percentage of soups in both product lines that do or do not contain MSG.”

“General Mills sought to defend its brand and truthfully inform consumers that … Progresso has soups that do not contain MSG and Campbell has soups that do contain MSG. Nonetheless, General Mills appreciates the opportunity to participate in the self-regulatory program and will take NAD’s recommendations into account in future advertising,” the company said.