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In the soup

Remember, cool kids, LILABOCAAAM (Life is Like a Bunch of Cringeworthy Ads Aimed at Millennials)

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Oh, those Millennials.

Defined as the generation born between 1982 and 1995 and known to be smart, skeptical and "brand experimental," as one demographic report says, they are currently sending hapless Gen X and boomer advertising execs into a tizzy.

As they become "autonomous consumers" (i.e., move out of their parents' basement), they are bound to buy stuff. But how do you get them to buy your stuff? Figure that out, and you can tap into the biggest population surge since the postwar baby boom. Get it wrong, as with Campbell's recent marketing-to-Millennials soup fiasco, and you'll be covered in ridicule. (Smart and skeptical, remember? And with access to social media.)

It's tempting but treacherous to make generational generalizations, especially with a bunch of tricky, fickle young consumers with a ruthlessly honed idea of what might constitute cool soup. (Oh, see, I'm doing it right there. Sorry.)

Campbell's started promisingly enough with Go Soups. The company had sent demographic researchers to hipster hubs like Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, hoping to snag passing indie record store clerks and artisanal pencil makers and pick up on their soup-related ideas and feelings.

Deciding that Millennials like to eat but don't necessarily like to cook, they developed a line that offers "adventurous flavors, microwave ease." Go Soups are sold in heatable pouches and include tastes like Moroccan-style chicken with chickpeas; chicken, poblano chilies and quinoa (inevitably, quinoa); and creamy red pepper with smoked Gouda (not just Gouda, mind, but smoked Gouda). They also cost about three times as much as that canned soup your mom uses in her special casserole.

(Unfortunately, Go Soups are not yet available in Canada, where we will have to content ourselves with Gen-X Gardennay for a while longer.)

There's nothing particularly wrong with the product line itself. Where Campbell's has completely lost its mind is in its pandering Millennial marketing, a hopelessly lame branding exercise that starts with the name. Go Soups sounds as if some senior marketing guy heard that kids like to text and tweet and simply can't be bothered with long names. Then there's the packaging, which involves visuals of young people wearing "taking a picture of myself in the bathroom mirror" Facebook expressions and heavy black-framed glasses.

Worst of all, having thought up some non-existent ideal of a winsome, skinny-pant-wearing, bee-keeping, Brooklyn-dwelling freelance stylist who just can't get enough soup, Campbell's has created the most excruciatingly embarrassing Tumblr-type page ever. I mean, I'm not even a Millennial and I found it knuckle-bitingly awful.

There are talk bubbles proclaiming that LILABOCG (Life is Like a Bag of Campbell's Go). There are ironical kitten GIFs in the nutritional info section. There are random whimsical snippets. ("How to get over an ex? Zipline.") Wow. If they're trying to reach the youth market, why are they telling Dad jokes?

The whole campaign feels as hopelessly square as those "counter-culture" movies that Hollywood tried to make after Easy Rider took off. Downer, man.

Clearly, the trick will be to market to Millennials without seeming to market to Millennials. It might take advertisers a while to figure this out. In the meantime, we can go to a Go Soups-sponsored link on Buzzfeed and enjoy the comic spectacle ("What's kickin'?" "No problemo." "Rock those chickpeas!") of a large corporation trying way too hard to "get down with the kids."

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 E1

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