The problem with the Tropicana packages has been mulled over enough, and there is no reason to rehash the details again. But it may be helpful to review the key elements that brought about the unexpected controversy because these apply to all package redesign ventures. It appears that the designers did not recognize or chose to ignore:
(1) The significance of the Tropicana icon, the straw inserted into an orange, in signifying freshness (i.e., juice straight from the fruit).
(2) The influence of the Tropicana logo on brand selection.
(3) The need for clearly differentiating among several Tropicana line extensions.
(4) The realities of different store display situations.
This spotlights the importance of assessing the realities of the marketplace and recognizing what is important in redesigning the packages of a major brand, whether introducing a line extension, planning product modifications or updating an aging brand.
The importance of brand recognition when changing packaging of a major brand
The temptation of wanting to put a personal stamp on a brand and using the packages to accomplish this is often irresistible. But such well-meaning initiatives require careful planning, a thorough understanding of what makes consumers prefer their products over competitive ones and awareness of the variety of display conditions at the point of sale.
Let’s take a look at how package changes of major brands create different consumer reactions.
To ignore the critical factor of brand recognition when introducing a package design modification is to risk losing loyal customers who, unaware that the package that they have been used to buying has been changed, will not find the altered package and will instead turn to a more recognizable competitive brand. Metamucil Capsules, for example, recently changed its packaging, making it difficult to find in the drugstore, even for the drugstore employee who—in this particular and personal case—tried to be helpful.
The Metamucil Capsules line, which previously referenced the benefits of regularity and fiber supplement, had been divided into two product varieties—one promoting heart and digestive health, the other emphasizing strong bones—each in a redesigned package.
The new packages had little visual reference to the package that had been on the market for years. The large logo was greatly reduced, buried in the midst of a busy promotional label design, and the label colors and cap color for the two varieties had changed. In short, the unannounced product and package design changes had altered the brand imagery of Metamucil to an extent that was confusing.
When there is a product change of a well-known brand, the packages need to retain some visual transition to the design that is being phased out or the marketer will risk losing loyal consumers who are unable to comprehend the unfamiliar product and package design changes.
The history of Pepsi provides a good example of brand continuity. At the beginning, Pepsi-Cola emulated Coca-Cola with its script logo. Coke had a strong red color as a brand identifier, and Pepsi identified itself with a taller bottle that held several ounces more product than Coke. In the mid-20th century, Pepsi graphics introduced its red-white-and-blue cap design, which later appeared as the round globe shape on the labels. In the latter part of the 20th century, when Pepsi adapted a blue background to contrast with the Coke red, Pepsi’s globe shape became its main brand recognition element.
Last year, Pepsi undertook another package design update. When you see the old and the new packages side by side, this redesign of the Pepsi brand is really quite radical. The bold Pepsi brand name on the previous label has disappeared and been replaced with a much smaller, vertical one. But the designers were careful to retain the well-recognized Pepsi globe, changing it slightly to suggest an inviting smile, and using its bull’s-eye effect as an impactful and memorable display feature. There is no mistaking Pepsi-Cola wherever the new packages appear.
Heinz wine vinegars
Several years ago, Heinz wine vinegars, then in a unique bell-shaped bottle but with an ordinary metal screw cap and a lackluster, industrial-looking label, was redesigned to better communicate the product quality implied by the “Wine Vinegar” product description. By changing the bottleneck configuration and using a flush plastic cap, the bottle could accommodate a neck wrap resembling a wine bottle. Redesigned label graphics further communicated the gourmet quality of the products and emphasized flavor differentiation.
Thus, retaining the unique bottle shape as a reminder of the longstanding product line made brand recognition possible even when neck- and bottle-label graphics were dramatically changed to convey the gourmet quality of the marketer’s brand.
Even when economic considerations require changes in package structure, careful exploration of ways to sustain brand recognition continuity is critical. A recent change, presumably for economic reasons, replaced the bell-shaped Heinz wine vinegar bottle with a simpler, straight-sided bottle. While this required some resizing of the labels, the unique neck- and bottle-label graphics were retained, making the brand unmistakable.
Breyers ice cream
On the other hand, there have been brands built through major changes in package design where existing brand elements were discarded. A good example is Breyers ice cream, which, until the mid-1980s, served a strictly regional, northeastern market. But Breyers wanted a national market and needed a strong national program to compete.
At the time, Breyers had a bland white package that looked like all other ice creams in the retail shelf. To accomplish national distribution, it was suggested that the brand totally change its branding and packaging. Instead of white packages, black became the background color—the first time ever on any dairy package—and the photography and graphic elements were completely changed. Retaining the Breyers leaf logo from the earlier packaging, the new design featured oversized, mouth-watering photography of ice cream that, against the black background, enabled each flavor to pop off the shelf.
Since then, low-fat and other varieties have been added to the Breyers line. These are differentiated through additions of color on the package. The most recent line extension, Smooth & Dreamy, introduces bright colors but maintains the black background at the top for brand continuity. Thus, though some package “drama” has been lost by reducing the ice cream photos and a new angled Breyers logo, brand identity recognition has been maintained.
While brand identity continuity was less critical when Breyers ice cream moved from being a regional brand to becoming a national brand, design continuity for this leading national brand is now a necessity.
Carefully planned strategy is critical when changing packaging of a major brand
Some major package design changes are successful, and some are not. When a major package change discards recognizable elements on the package, marketers and designers must carefully evaluate the risks. It may be the right thing to do at the right time. But it can backfire if the realities of the marketplace and the brand equities are not carefully assessed.
While there are exceptions, most brand strategies require sustained brand recognition continuity, especially when the brand is performing well, when it has a recognizable color and unique graphic elements, when it is marketed to older people, and when the brand’s non-packaging elements are not being changed.