If you skipped your OJ for a month in 2008 you likely missed one of the biggest branding debacles this side of the millennium.
It turns out it might not have been a conscious choice, perhaps you couldn’t even see the top selling squeeze, Tropicana. To understand why, we need to know a little history of our favourite citrus bevvy.
In 1947 Anthony T. Rossi started his business packing fruit gift boxes and jars of sectioned fruit. It wasn’t until 1954, when he developed the process of flash-pasteurization that Tropicana began. This process allowed for the tasty goodness of freshly squeezed to be preserved and easily shipped.
Fast-forwarding passed the Tropic-Ana mascot (originally conceived in the '50s and later phased out in the '80s), the Pure Premium product we all know and love was created in 1984. Rather, this is when it was given the name we all know and love, Tropicana Pure Premium. It was with the help of the Beatrice Company (new owners) they were able to market their concentrate beverages separately from their not-from-concentrate. Their different products were targeting different audiences.
Pure Premium outpaced the competition and was a main driver for the vast public to move away from concentrate to freshly squeezed. By 1991 they expanded into Canada and globally, growing ever more, eventually acquiring Dole. I’d be remiss to mention that at this point Tropicana had itself been traded hands a couple times; nevertheless it continued with steady growth.
According to this article. this is when the carton you and I are so familiar with came to be. Despite my efforts I couldn’t find a corroborating piece for this information, but the point stands: it’s been a long while for this design.
As does with everything in the beverage industry, Tropicana got acquired by one of the big two. PepsiCo snatched them up in 1998. While Coca-Cola was already onboard the juice train when they acquired Minute Maid in 1960 they were the ones playing catch-up. They had clearly seen the growth in the space that Tropicana created all those years ago.
So why after all these years of growth and being in top spot of the orange pile did Tropicana choose to redesign? It was even reported by PepsiCo that from 2003 to 2007 they had doubled their household penetration from 12% to 30%.
From the data, a complete redesign makes little to no sense. If your business is doing well, why change a good thing? Barring the fact that their rebrand was a complete fail (and we will get to that), it’s just good housekeeping to make sure your company is progressing with the times. Every large brand we’ve grown to trust makes these changes.
I suspect Tropicana got sold on this idea by the Arnell Group, the designers behind the misfire. The same agency who also unveiled a new Pepsi logo that same year with a 27 page document explaining it. My suspicions are that Arnell felt they had an in with PepsiCo and he tried to parlay it into as much business as he could without truly analysing what was necessary.
So, what happened? Arnell dismissed all of the brand-equity Tropicana had built up over the past half-century.
Do you even remember seeing this package? It literally was on the shelf for less than two months. I was fortunate enough to have spotted it on the shelf between January 1st and Februrary 22nd, 2009 when PepsiCo decided to pull the plug and do a 180.
Peter Arnell’s intentions were to make the brand more contemporary. From all accounts it seems he is a man of great ego (ultimately leading to his dismissal from his own company). An ego that felt Tropicana needed a revolution and not an evolution. This is where it all came off the rails.
In the time the redesigned packaging was on shelves, Tropicana sales decreased by 20%. Across the board orange juice sales at the time were down just 5% for all companies. New packaging often does account for a slight dip after its initial release. However, nothing points to the huge percentage drop of 20%, accounting for a loss of $137 million in sales—a project that had already cost PepsiCo $35 million to initiate. Additionally, the likes of Minute Maid and others in the sector reported snatching up increased sales during this period.
Have a scared you away from considering a redesign yet? There are good reasons why this project failed for Tropicana. They aren’t because of a redesign. They are because of how it was redesigned. If you try to reinvent the french fry, don’t use a cucumber. Yams have had great success because they are a progression and not completely different.
The logo design and packaging change for Tropicana was too extensive. They literally changed everything about the product except for the colours orange and green and the shape of the square carton. Their Pure Premium looked like a brand new product from a brand new brand.
Most reports of the failure point to how consumers really loved the original packaging. The new design was flamed on countless blogs for how bad it looked. But looks really have nothing to do with how good the product is. For years and years Tropicana has been one of the top sellers and consumers are loyal to their brands. Even if Arnell managed to create something beautiful there’s very a good chance it still would have failed.
It failed because there was no understanding of the brand and the equity in its design. There is a bigger reason why sales dropped. The new look suffered from what they call schotoma.
Schotoma is the reason you can’t see things that are right in front of you. It is the reason why I can’t find the mustard in the fridge and my wife can. I look for the mustard where I think it should be—where I’ve known it to be in the past. She looks for it where it could be, i.e. anywhere in the fridge. She has no preconceived notions of where it should be.
Schotomas are mental blind spots. If you believe you can’t find something, you likely will not. If you are convinced your phone charger is black you’ll have a heck of a time finding it if it is white.
So when Tropicana hit the shelves with a brand new look that barely had a whisper of the voice it used to, no one heard it. No one saw it because they were looking for Tropicana. It was right in front of them and they were not seeing it because it was not what they expected to find. They likely glazed over it like every other generic juice in hopes of finding the iconic orange with a straw in it. When they didn’t, they grabbed Minute Maid or the next best thing.
A month later when customers were back in the stores I imagine they were in jubilation. They would have found the old packaging of the product they’d been drinking for years, maybe even decades. The vast number of their most dedicated consumers probably don’t realize Tropicana had a new package for a short time and they probably chalked it up to a simple shortage.
What could Tropicana have done differently? As it turns out, they should have done a lot less differently. Minor tweaks to the logo and creating a little white space would have made for great steps forward. The little orange they had for a lid was also a fantastic idea that could have been implemented without backlash. Big ships need to take wide slow turns to avoid big waves and customers going overboard. They can move in this direction over years not months.
If you’ve got a small business, you can be nimble. Your boat can maneuver and change on a dime without such a huge ripple effect.
Brand revolutions aren’t inherently bad. Arnell employed the wrong strategy for the situation. Had Tropicana been in hot water, changing their look entirely could have been a good move. Revolutions only make sense when you want to distance your business from its past or if the business has no traction with its current design.
That’s what the design process is all about: strategy. It is the weighing of every decision and how it will impact your business.