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  Packaging: Lessons from Tropicana’s Fruitless Design   Packaging: Lessons from Tropicana’s Fruitless Design  Jennifer Gidman  
         
 
Packaging: Lessons from Tropicana’s Fruitless Design It’s a revamp-gone-wrong tale that has already secured its place in the annals of packaging: PepsiCo retains Arnell Group to redesign its Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice cartons as part of its new ad campaign. Said cartons make their aisle debut in January, minus the familiar straw-punctured orange and sporting a modernized depiction of—well, fresh-squeezed juice. Consumers revolt and demand the old packaging back. Two months and a reported US$ 35 million later, PepsiCo reverts back to the original Tropicana packaging, straw between its legs (and back on the carton).

There’s nothing unusual about a perennial product revisiting its packaging, labels or logos in an attempt to bring outdated aesthetics up to par with an enduring brand message. Camel cigarettes underwent its first package redesign in 90 years in 2008. Bacardi, which has been distilling spirits since the 1860s, has updated its bottles to “reflect the sophisticated consumer environment.” And then there’s Pepsi, which introduced a new logo last fall (Arnell Group was also responsible for this design do-over, to mixed reviews).

 
But if the brand is still enjoying hefty market share, why putter around with its packaging? Tropicana has historically dominated number-two Minute Maid (owned by PepsiCo rival Coca-Cola) in the OJ category. “Sometimes [package redesign] has nothing to do with the business at all—it [comes] down to the new personnel working on the brand, hell-bent on making a mark on their career,” says Dyfed “Fred” Richards, executive creative director, North America, for global branding consultancy Interbrand, which also produces brandchannel. “It’s sometimes difficult for brand managers to demonstrate growth of a brand they’re being tasked to manage and grow. But a new package design associated with those changes demonstrates these changes.”

The agencies commissioned for a redesign may also share some of the blame for failed packaging overhauls—think about if Mad Men creative director Don Draper’s powers of persuasion were magnified by corporate fears of losing market share in a depressed economy. “Design companies should be asking far smarter questions at the outset of the changes to really understand the reasons for the change,” Richards says. “Sadly, many [of these] companies enjoy the design process so much that design for design’s sake takes over, and all reason jumps out of the window for the benefit of a trend or effect they’ve wanted to try.”

Could this be what happened with the Arnell Group redesign strategy for the Pepsi logo that leaked onto the Internet last year? In the 27-page report, simply titled “Breathtaking,” the authors cite such lofty influences as the golden rectangle (that aesthetically pleasing formula found in architectural and artistic masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and the Parthenon); magnetic geodynamics; and Hindu numerical harmonics as all leading up to the design revolution that is the new Pepsi logo.

This is excessive profundity for a visual representation that, at the risk of oversimplifying the process, just took the old logo, rotated it and distorted the white middle wave. And while there’s plenty in the report about brand geometry, perimeter oscillations and color theory, what’s notable is a lack of discussion of either the product itself or the consumer.

Arnell Group still hasn’t verified the report as being authentic. However, Peter Arnell’s somewhat rambling defense of the Tropicana debacle is comprised of similar stream-of-consciousness associations between squeezing oranges, hugging children, and ensuring consistency between the purity of the juice and the carton. Combine this with the grammatically awkward tagline, “Squeeze…It’s a Natural,” and you’re left to wonder: is this branding genius or simply marketing mumbo-jumbo?

Extreme Package Makeover
With properly ascertained research and consumer feedback, however, a brand can, and should, make an informed decision to redesign its packaging or logo. “Any brand should be looking at itself in the mirror 24/7 and measuring itself against all its competitors,” Richards says. “If a brand is in a leadership position, then it should be protecting and leveraging those key equities at all times in an effort to reinforce the reasons why it’s the market leader.”

All parties involved need to carefully tread the redesign waters. “Understand the brand’s history,” Richards explains. “Talk to and listen to loyal consumers. This isn’t about sticking a pretty label on a box and hoping you win a design award. All the assets of the brand need careful evaluation to find out equity stretch points and equities that are sacrosanct to the consumer. More often than not, you’re not designing for your client, and certainly not for yourself—you’re designing for the consumer.”

Even after studying the ins and outs of a brand, there’s still that slippery slope to navigate in contemporizing an iconic brand’s packaging, label or logo while still retaining its most identifiable elements and the equity it’s built up over the years. “There’s a fine line between being relevant and being trendy,” Richards explains. “Updating requires a craft that can only be learned over many years of experience. I always tell my designers that working on the less glamorous brands is character-building [work], not on the boutique brands that essentially come and go and fall prey to the latest tricks and trends.”

While designers should be aware of the new designs around them, they should be careful of what they leverage in their day-to-day dealings with brands they are charged to develop, Richards says. “I ask all of my designers to keep personal scrapbooks that are evaluated on a regular basis in one-on-one sessions,” he says. “I want to see what’s motivating them, what inspires them. It could be a ticket stub from a concert or a great piece of type from an ad—it doesn’t matter, as long as they are curious [about] the world around them and download the information in a book rather than carrying this information as graphic noise in their heads. That noise might then become an impure insert into a brand’s future that won’t resonate with the consumer.”

 
Pulp Friction
Tropicana’s carton conundrum is a compelling story on a couple of fronts. First, there’s the juicy, schadenfreude-esque media obsession—the panned carton was one of the most blogged topics the week of February 23–27, behind only the machinations of President Obama’s new administration, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s New Media Index.

But even more unusual has been the astonishing backlash from a usually silent, brand-loyal contingent, and PepsiCo’s eventual acquiescence to these vitamin C devotees. Feedback on the design, relayed to PepsiCo via letters, phone calls and e-mails, has ranged from deeming the cartons “ugly” to expressing outright confusion—some customers passed right by Tropicana cartons on store shelves, mistaking the new packaging for private-label offerings. “What’s evident from my experience and perspective is that key equities of the brand were thrown away for a generic offering, and consumers reacted,” Richards says.

Despite such a marketing blunder, however, Tropicana-gate has demonstrated that the brand’s followers cared enough about the brand to effect change. “I think it’s a blessing for Pepsi that the consumers didn’t react by walking away from the brand,” Richards says. “We all remember what happened with New Coke.”

In these troubling economic times, this type of loyalty is an indicator of what roles brands play in our lives. “The rise of private label is clear (64 percent last year), and orange juice is a commodity category,” Richards says. “But consumers need their ‘comfort brands’—eventually the message [of these comfort brands] will get through, and consumers become incredibly powerful brand advocates. So when the message changes in such a dramatic fashion, as it did with Tropicana, the consumer feels betrayed.”

Revolution among the common folk is starting to resonate with the brands they’re revolting against. Facebook users, for instance, recently took issue with certain amendments to the site’s terms of service. As a result, the social-networking platform temporarily reverted back to its old terms. And when CBS canceled the prime-time TV show Jericho, disgruntled fans delivered 20 tons of peanuts to CBS offices (the network cracked and resurrected the show).

There are brands that have taken consumer opinion one step further, involving the public in actual packaging makeovers. Nestlé, for example, is tapping into social media to elicit consumer input for new packaging for its Goobers, Sno-Caps and Oh Henry! candy lines (the package redesign that gets the most votes will be on shelves by the end of 2009). And in celebration of its 150th anniversary, Eight O’Clock Coffee is letting consumers direct its packaging facelift by registering their votes at CoffeeMaker.com (with a chance to win a year’s worth of groceries to boot).

Of course, there’s empowering consumers with some say, and then there’s giving the consumers a laptop loaded with graphic-design software and directing them to redesign the packaging from scratch. “I’m a firm believer in engaging consumers at every level of the design process,” Richards says. “Listen to them first, show them what they know, listen again. Then think about what you’ve heard—put images to the spoken word and play them back. Ensure there’s a clear meaning behind every image and every word. Go on a shopping trip with the consumer from the moment the grocery list is being created to the point of selection at shelf to purchase to use in the home; do the same thing yourself. But don’t let the client or consumer design: brand design is a craft, not a beauty contest.”

So it’s back to the drawing board (or maybe not) for Tropicana. The old cartons are expected to reappear on store shelves this month. The only remnants of the US$ 35 million Arnell experiment will be the cute, orange-shaped plastic caps, which will be retained on cartons of low-calorie Trop50. The advertising campaign that’s currently in place will also continue.

Perhaps this could have all been avoided if PepsiCo had sought out real consumer input in the first place. “Respect the brand and the role it has to play in the hearts and minds of the consumer,” Richards says. “Use the product: How does it taste, smell, sound, feel in your hands—how does it perform? Do you understand it? Can you appreciate why other consumers get excited by it? Go on that consumer journey.”

Once you’ve taken that step, you’ll be able to embark on a successful packaging redesign if that’s what’s needed. “Many brands successfully update their look and feel on a regular basis with very little effect on the loyal consumer—that’s the craft of branding,” Richards says. “When you go back and look at packaging through the ages, especially the power brands that have stood the test of time through decades of changes and consumer trends, they offer a unique insight of how to develop and manage key equities and remain relevant to the consumer of today and tomorrow.”     

[16-Mar-2009]

 
  
  

Jennifer Gidman lives and works in New York.

     
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Packaging: Lessons from Tropicana’s Fruitless Design
 
 It's amazing to see so many examples such as this, especially considering the money and reputations involved.One thing I tend to notice is missing is 'end benefit'... TO THE CONSUMER.I am of course an advocate, so I would say this, but it also seems a pity more thought in these redesigns is not given to environmental benefits, especially in the area of reuse, which surely can offer END BENEFIT to person, pocket, planet and.. if marketed well, the product too!And I can think of many that could well confer significant advantages in this regard, whilst representing an evolution that will satisfy the desire to stay 'fresh', but without needing to confuse loyal customers by being too radical. Or not working (I hark to the Wal*Mart large bottle 'green' design; which was more to help the logistics than at the breakfast table... think 'end benefit' again... where was it?) The will is there, the money is there. The imaginations are there. Wouldn't it be great if the brief was posed? 
Peter Martin, Junkk Male, Junkk.com - March 16, 2009
 
 Excellent article. Thank you so much Jennifer!It's always the same old story with leading brands. Evolution or revolution?Research is very very weak for this kind of projects, we are using the same tools for the last 25 years and definitely the world (the consumer) has changed...All this shouldn't last; but it will, always...said Prince of Lampedusa. 
Jordi Aguilar, Strategy Director, Morillas Brand Design - March 16, 2009
 
 Jennifer, Well put! I agree with your conclusion "Perhaps this could have all been avoided if PepsiCo had sought out real consumer input in the first place." However, while graphic design firms may be the easiest target for such criticism, they are not alone. Brand consultants, ad agencies and PR firms are all guilty of the same sins whenever their practitioners focus so much on the client, their peers or their ego that the consumer becomes a trifling afterthought. Thanks for the post. I will encourage my clients and employees to read this. 
Sean Duffy, Brand Consultant, The Duffy Agency - March 16, 2009
 
 Funny, I actually sent Tropicana an email about two weeks ago commenting on the new packaging. I alerted them that it made it difficult for me (a branding professional) to identify my favorite variety (Light 
Jeff Gonzalez, Just a Brand Conscious Guy, Freelance Web Marketing - March 16, 2009
 
 Thanks for the thorough follow-up and insights on brand management and "consumers as design critics." I followed this makeover discussion with great interest and was glad to see Tropicana responded by listening to its core customers. But I do worry about the trend of asking consumers to "be the designer." The pendulum has swung away from respect for the design craft to allowing consumers to completely run the show. There needs to be a happy medium between consumer input and thoughtful, meaningful design choices. Tropicana got lucky and learned a bit about redesigning a customer touchpoint without having a good (consumer relevant) reason to do so. What surprised me most was the timing of the redesign, when "safe," trusted brands are contending with consumers switching to generics to save money. Not the best time to suddenly make your package "disappear" on the shelf. 
Deborah M. Budd, Web Content Developer, Second Wind Ltd. - March 16, 2009
 
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