Rip it up and start again… Tropicana’s failed bid to update its Orange juice packaging design

Entertaining news from the world of packaging design. In the United States Tropicana, a part of PepsiCo decided late last year to introduce a new range of packaging for its juices. Out went the traditional design which depicted a highly stylised hand rendered font and an orange with a straw stuck into it.

As the New York Times reported this week:

The PepsiCo Americas Beverages division of PepsiCo is bowing to public demand and scrapping the changes made to a flagship product, Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice. Redesigned packaging that was introduced in early January is being discontinued, executives plan to announce on Monday, and the previous version will be brought back in the next month.

It noted that:

Also returning will be the longtime Tropicana brand symbol, an orange from which a straw protrudes. The symbol, meant to evoke fresh taste, had been supplanted on the new packages by a glass of orange juice.

It’s a rough and rudimentary image (rather than symbol, although it does operate as a symbol), and in order to see its effectiveness consider the following images which provide a comparison between the different versions.

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While entirely traditional in look there is a certain sturdy utility to the colour differentiated blocs at the top of the carton indicating which particular version was contained within. The letterforms are shaded horizontally green to black with an orange tint drop shadow. This tint and shaded colour scheme is reiterated in the leaf which serves as the dot on ‘i’ in Tropicana. The letterforms are set on a curved baseline which echoes the shape of the orange placed beneath them. In sum this is a very particular visual formulation which rests in the main upon concepts of freshness and the organic.

The new design discards that for an arguably more subtle design approach. The introduction of clean sans serifs for the name and descriptions all set within a very distinct grid, the use of what appears to be stock photographic imagery of a glass of orange and the relegation of the individualised colours to the tabs at the top of the cartons presents a profoundly modernist imagery. This is crisp, cool and detached. The replacement of the vigorous and perhaps humourous image of the orange with the straw by the glass leads to a coolness, almost a sense of detachment. The individual vigour of original brand is replaced by an essential anonymity leading to a curious paradox. This is formally good design, but it is inappropriate for the product which it attempts to promote. Not least because it moves to rapidly from a long established heritage to an entirely new concept. Which in essence results in this being functionally poor design.

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The turn around is on foot of a considerable consumer led campaign to jettison the redesign…

Some of those commenting described the new packaging as “ugly” or “stupid,” and resembling “a generic bargain brand” or a “store brand.”

“Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice?” the writer of one e-mail message asked rhetorically. “Because I do, and the new cartons stink.”

Others described the redesign as making it more difficult to distinguish among the varieties of Tropicana or differentiate Tropicana from other orange juices.

There is, it has to be said, some truth in that charge. Previously across a remarkably varied range of Orange Juices, including versions which were pulpless, Ruby Red, and so forth the visual style adopted was as follows:

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A further criticism is that it looks too much like ‘own-brand’ packaging. There is something to that charge too. The uniformity across the range does convey something of that approach. But it is worth noting that in broad terms a lot of ‘own brand’ packaging is now far superior to the visual and conceptually simple solutions of the ‘yellowpacks’, although some companies, such as Tesco continue to use that style for their least expensive ranges.

It’s worth noting that the critical mass behind the protests was in no small part assisted by the use of the internet. The New York Times notes that:

Such attention is becoming increasingly common as interactive technologies enable consumers to rapidly convey opinions to marketers.

“You used to wait to go to the water cooler or a cocktail party to talk over something,” said Richard Laermer, chief executive at RLM Public Relations in New York.

“Now, every minute is a cocktail party,” he added. “You write an e-mail and in an hour, you’ve got a fan base agreeing with you.”

That ability to share brickbats or bouquets with other consumers is important because it facilitates the formation of ad hoc groups, more likely to be listened to than individuals.

“There will always be people complaining, and always be people complaining about the complainers,” said Peter Shankman, a public relations executive who specializes in social media. “But this makes it easier to put us together.”

In some respects such immediate feedback is a tool for product manufacturers and advertisers. Curious as to the response of consumers? There’s little excuse now. However its ability to allow for the proliferation of negatives about, say, a product means that although in some respects there has been an increase in the ability of manufacturers and designers to shape an image, their ability to control that image is lessened and now becomes more dependent upon the response of consumers.

And the response by Neil Campbell, president at Tropicana North America in Chicago, is instructive.

[he] acknowledged that consumers can communicate with marketers “more readily and more quickly” than ever. “For companies that put consumers at the center of what they do,” he said, “it’s a good thing.”

It was not the volume of the outcries that led to the corporate change of heart, Mr. Campbell said, because “it was a fraction of a percent of the people who buy the product.”

Rather, the criticism is being heeded because it came, Mr. Campbell said in a telephone interview on Friday, from some of “our most loyal consumers.”

“We underestimated the deep emotional bond” they had with the original packaging, he added. “Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.”

As the New York Times reports “Among those who underestimated that bond was Mr. Campbell himself. In an interview last month to discuss the new packaging, he said, “The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them.”

Almost startlingly, Campbell admits that ‘“What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have. That wasn’t something that came out in the research’.

One would be forgiven for wanting to get a look at that research.

The response from Arnell, the agency behind the redesign is predictable:

“Tropicana is doing exactly what they should be doing,” Peter Arnell, chairman and chief creative officer at Arnell, said in a separate telephone interview on Friday.

“I’m incredibly surprised by the reaction,” he added, referring to the complaints about his agency’s design work, but “I’m glad Tropicana is getting this kind of attention.”

He can, at least, take away some comfort from the general praise for the Tropicana ad campaign:

Print and outdoor ads that have already appeared will not be changed, [Campbell added], but future elements of the campaign — like commercials, due in March — would be updated.

Unlike the packaging, the campaign has drawn praise, particularly for including in its family imagery several photographs of fathers and children hugging. Such dad-centric images are rare in food ads.

The campaign, which carries the theme “Squeeze it’s a natural”

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There is however another twist to this tale. On this side of the Atlantic Tropicana uses an entirely different design, closer in feel to that of the original US version, but distinctly different from it. This was designed by Landor and while incorporating many of the elements of the US design it discards the orange and straw in favour of a more muted, but still visually vibrant, imagery of sliced oranges and other fruit. The brand name is retained in a somewhat modified casual and slightly cartoon like font, albeit a different one to the US version. By contrast with the US cartons the names of the products are rendered in a large but slender serif and instead of a swatch of colour indicating contents the names and the cap are given individualised colours.

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It would be interesting to parse out the reasons for the differences between the two styles. Is the original Tropicana image of an orange and a straw considered too literal for European tastes? Or did they wish, in the absence of the full range of ‘orange’ based products to allow for a broader visual identity which could incorporate non-orange juice products? Certainly there is scope for further investigation there.

So where does this leave designers? Those engaged in rebranding exercises will often hear a client ask for something ‘different but similar’. And that intuitive grasp of the necessity to bring consumers with one can necessitate painful compromises at the design level. But this instance appearrs to point to something more. It is difficult not to see this as ultimately heralding a considerable increase in the power of the consumer and in a more engaged fashion than previously. The consumer has often been a silent partner in the process by which designed materials enter the public domain. Although that process has seen clients have considerable, but not quite total, control of the ultimate shape of the visual imagery, now it appears that the consumer is entering the equation, not as a passive player but as an active one demanding some say in the way in which products are presented. That this say appears to be, in this instance if not others, exercised on behalf of the status quo does not diminish the potential for consumers.

Asked if he was chagrined that consumers rejected the changes he believed they wanted, Mr. Campbell replied: “I feel it’s the right thing to do, to innovate as a company. I wouldn’t want to stop innovating as a result of this. At the same time, if consumers are speaking, you have to listen.”

You sure do.

Ciarán Swan

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