Let me start with a photograph so you can see what I’m talking about:
It’s Tropicana orange juice and you’ve probably seen it (well, the old packaging, on the left) in the local supermarket. Tropicana, it turns out, is a division of Pepsi Corporation (NYSE:PEP) (just as Minute Maid is a division of Coca-Cola Corporation (NYSE:KO), but you knew this, right?) and a few months ago it had a remarkable misstep with its packaging design…
If you do have a chance to get the packaging on the right, buy it and save it. It’s a collector’s item.
Turns out that in January of 2009 Tropicana introduced the new package design as part of a $35mil advertising and branding campaign, with the theme “Squeeze it’s a natural”, created by Peter Arnell. Within weeks loyal customers were complaining about the new package, saying that they missed the orange-and-straw graphic of the original. By the end of February The New York Times was reporting that Tropicana had changed its mind and was going back to the earlier packaging.
And über-designer Arnell’s explanation? “emotionally, it’s still very, very difficult to, and it still remains difficult, for everyone to grasp the importance of the [packaging] change because it’s so dramatic.” Uh, um, yeah, okay Peter.
That’s old news, really. I mean, four months in Internet time is like five years in academia, right? 🙂
What’s interesting is to go back and really think about what transpired, why, and what it implies in terms of the ceaseless vox populi drumbeat of the Internet.
Let’s be candid. A tiny but vocal minority of customers didn’t like the new packaging. But so what? Does that really matter in this modern age? Would people really stop buying a product simply because the packaging changed?
Surprise! Yes they would: AdAge reported that “After its package redesign, sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted 20% between Jan. 1 and Feb. 22, costing the brand tens of millions of dollars.”
That’s where it becomes important and where it’s a story worth thinking about carefully. By changing the packaging of a commodity beverage product, Pepsi lost tens of millions of dollars. This isn’t a brand new package with a poor design either (consumers will often forgive poor package design if the product’s good and if the design improves over time), but a strong existing brand (Tropicana sees over $300mil in annual OJ sales).
Unlike the earlier debacle with New Coke, there was no reformulation or change in the product itself. Just the picture on the carton.
I love this quote from a FastCompany article on the subject:
“Sometimes you land in a great place, and sometimes you don’t. And when you don’t, you need to find a better place. Fast,” Pepsi’s CMO, David Burwick conceded. At the end of the table, one of his lieutenants could barely conceal a snicker. “Words like ‘tweak’ are in order,” he said. “Or beyond ‘tweak.'”
If you’re involved in the visual design and layout of your company’s Web site, marketing collateral or packaging, this should all make you take a deep breath and feel, perhaps, just a tiny bit anxious. Customers really are that fickle, really are paying attention, really are that brand disloyal.
Next time you think about a redesign, it’d be smart to keep that in mind.