Would Tropicana’s 2009 redesign “failure” still be seen as a failure in todays market ?

by | Oct 4, 2018 | Strategically thinking through the design process

The poster child for packaging and branding redesign, failure is Tropicana. In 2009 Tropicana’s redesign failure has provided brand managers with their most powerful weapon “case study” to use against other brand stakeholders pushing for greater or a radical packaging and branding design change.

Background to Tropicana’s redesign failure

Tropicana, a PepsiCo brand, well known for selling fruit juice mainly in North America, underwent a complete overhaul of it’s packaging and branding for its best-selling orange juice back in in 2009. Unfortunately for Tropicana, their new packaging and branding design was a major flop and was completely rejected by their customers.

In fact the launch of their new design was such a failure, the company ended up back-peddling and reinstating the original version of the pack. Within just two months of launching it’s new pack, sales had fallen by 20% costing the company around 30 million US dollars.

So much has been said and written about this packaging and branding disaster over the years. You can read the complete Tropicana redesign failure case study and analysis here. 

Whilst we know what factors created this packaging and branding failure, the big question is, in today’s current supermarket economy, would the Tropicana redesign failure have been a failure, or would it have actually been a winner.

Was Tropicana simply just 10 years ahead of it’s time?

Why did they change ?

No doubt if you were to interview the Tropicana Brand Marketers prior to the disaster, they would have had many good and viable reasons as to why they needed to invest the millions of dollars to redo their packs and brand.

Improving sales of orange juice would be their number one and improving what was perceived to have been an “ugly” pack would have also been up there as a reason for changing.

Rejuvenating the category and helping consumers rediscover the health benefits of pure fruit juice have all been quoted as reasons for the pack and brand redo.

How the consumer shops

Whilst consumers rarely consciously look at logos, the brand image serves as a shopping shorthand for their desired product. Brand and colour cues support the consumer to quickly cut thru the plethora of choices on shelf and pick up the product they want.

People’s shopping habits rarely change, especially for essentials. So when their brand or packaging goes through a major change, the consumer will notice. Especially if they can no longer find what they are looking for.

This is unfortunately what happened with Tropicana.

As a human race we tend to push back against change and unfortunately for brands who have been a staple and a stable in the lives of their consumers, a radical change to the pack and brand design creates the perception that the the product inside has changed too.

This creates trust issues.

This is also what happened to tropicana. “Have they changed the product?” was one of the biggest concerns raised by the Tropicana consumers.

So would Tropicana’s redesign failure be a failure in todays market?

With so much choice available, brand managers are constantly striving to breathe new life into an established product and increase customer awareness through re-branding and packaging refresh campaigns.

The question is…

The question is, considering todays brand agnostic consumer, would Tropicana’s redesign failure actually have failed in todays market.

One can never totally predict these things. So rather than ask if Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure would have failed in today’s market, today, and throw the baby out with the bathwater, a better question is what learnings can we glean from the “Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure” that can be applied in todays grab and go market.

Get the fundamentals right

Of course there were some basic fundamentals that Tropicana failed to take into account. Read more HERE.

No matter what the market conditions or who the competition is, there are always some basic branding and packaging fundamentals that must be taken into account whether you are rebranding or refreshing.

Basic design fundamentals like:

  • heirachy and structure of information,
  • tone of voice,
  • typography,
  • imagery and user friendliness

These basics still need to be considered in terms of the needs of the shopper. Clearly these basics were neglected in the Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure.

In fact if you just copy and paste “Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure” into Google, you’ll be inundated with a plethora of experts all saying similar things. Ultimately that the fundamentals were ignored.

A different time

One of the issues of the day faced by Tropicana back in 2009 was that the supermarket branded products (private label) were seen as generic and somewhat inferior to the national branded products for the category.

This was the perception at the time. The Tropicana consumer said of the new design at that time, it was that, “This carton of juice on the counter, looked like the generic supermarket brand.

However todays supermarket private label products have a very different consumer perception.

No longer are their products seen as inferior.

Todays buyers are not only more forgiving of private label products, but because of the huge investment made by the retailers into the design of their own branded products, their private label branded products often look superior to the national brands merchandise.

See: How brands can combat private label products – https://jamandco.com.au/combat-private-label-products/

Supermarket retailers have worked hard over the last few years to up the ante. Since the cost of packaging design and printing has fallen considerably, they are easily able to make sure their private label brands and products are “indistinguishable” from the national brands.

They are even able to make their product look “premium” and in some cases more so than the national brand.

Supermarkets have done this by investing in significantly improved, cost effective packaging design and rapid go to market programs.

Shifting perceptions in the market

In other words, in many respects because of the shifting perceptions of the market place and consumers needs, there are many aspects of the Tropicana redo that would have been totally acceptable and even approved of today.

Besides the willing acceptance of private label products amongst consumers, smaller food companies are also rapidly gaining space in shopping carts and on the super market shelves. This has led to a Brand agnostic customer who wants what they want and wants what looks good and premium for a competitive price.

So many of the issues faced by Tropicana back in 2009 would go under the radar today. Who knows, maybe the cherry red and white striped straw in shown in the original pack would be seen today as “less natural” and too “plastic”?

Did Tropicana have the right plan?

Of course hindsight is always 20/20 and it’s always easy to predict something after the event.

That said, let’s agree that potentially Tropicana was indeed in need of a facelift at the time. There is a big difference between a face lift and a brand new face?

The issue’s is not that Tropicana shouldn’t have changed, rather its they didn’t have a change strategy.

Customers were emotionally attached

Customers have an emotional attachments with brands they buy.

In Tropicana’s case, their customers were clearly disappointed and possibly even felt betrayed by the new and sudden change and all the new brand elements incorporated in the new design.There were just far to many element changes and that set confusion in and amongst Tropicana’s loyal customer base.

Tropicana neglected a core the key branding rule no matter what the market is saying or calling for…

They neglected the basics of product recognition and identification.

Which way to go? What degree of change?

So which way would you go in todays market? What design would you choose assuming that both designs need to be revamped?

Would you opt for EVOLUTION or REVOLUTION?

When should a brand or pack opt for revolution?

Unless one is forced to make revolutionary design changes, then evolutionary changes, where changes are done progressively ensure consumers recognise brand is the way to go.

Revolution

A brand revolution is typically heralded based on a requirement for a radical shift in order to shift and build new consumer and consumer perceptions about the brand. Was this the case for Tropicana back in 2009?

There are 6 major reasons why a brand would opt to so radically shift away from it’s current pack or brand design.  

These perceptual changes are due to:

  1. A catastrophic event or consumer crisis where a brands identity has been tarnished.
  2. New products, services or capabilities.
  3. A mature brand needing to penetrate and appeal to new and possibly younger consumer audiences.
  4. A legal requirement or regulatory requirement to change.
  5. Long term growth prospects for the brand in its current state are sub optimal.
  6. New ownership and to leverage off of the new parent brand.

Were any of these reasons clearly called out in the research and decision making prior to theTropicana brand redo back in 2008?  

When to Revolutionise

  • Revolution typically works best for lesser-known brands looking to gain greater market share. Especially as they are not yet established, they can therefore experiment with their branding and image without too much risk.
  • A design revolution is a highly effective way to revitalize brands with low market share and need to become relevant.
  • A challenger brand has more freedom and possibilities to change, strengthen and differentiate through an innovative new package design.

An example of a product or brand where REVOLUTION is required can happen when a brand has been threatened with a lawsuit because their brand or design is seen as too “copycat”. 

What is a change strategy as it applies to packaging and branding?

A change strategy as applied to packaging and branding means “Creating a plan that pulls the brand into the future along a predetermined fresh and relevant pathway enticing new consumers, without confusing, alienating or losing existing customers.”

This is branding or packaging EVOLUTION. In other words, an evolutionary plan covers how the brand will connect emotionally with its existing customers along the journey, whilst at the same time attracting new consumers to the brand over a three to five year period.

Clearly Tropicana opted for revolution rather than evolution.

To read more about creating a fail free evolutionary plan READ HERE

So the question then is..So would Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure be a failure in todays market?

We believe that there are a number of key issues that need to be taken into account no matter which way the market is shifting or trending. As laid out above there were core fundamentals which were neglected by the Brand which led up to theTropicana’s packaging redesign failure.

It is the view of this author that the best strategy for Tropicana at the time and any established brand looking to change up it’s game is to opt for an EVOLUTIONARY plan where they can take the consumers on the journey retaining recognition and identification.