Tropicana takes a mulligan

February 25, 2009

Tropicana announced this week that they are killing a repackaging effort that was brought to market with some fanfare just a few weeks ago. The problem was a pretty simple one: bad design.

Flavor varieties in new packaging

Flavor varieties in old packaging

The popular and design press have been abuzz about this rebranding (and the recent announcement to kill it). And while the straw-in-the-orange was a compelling notion that succinctly captured the core promise of the brand – pure premium; 100% natural; not from concentrate – the press has assigned way too much consumer love to this image. Certainly it could not have been more beloved than the previously (and successfully) abandoned Tropic-Ana girl in the grass skirt.

I am not buying the "deep emotional bond" that customers had with the straw-in-the-orange packaging, as explained by Tropicana president, Neil Campbell. A deep emotional bond to buying the kind of juice they actually wanted may be more accurate.

I am not a designer, as my talented colleagues here at CoreBrand can attest. Yet the problem with this new packaging was painfully obvious the first time I saw it in the refrigerator at my local supermarket: poor information design. Very important information about the product (like pulp content or added nutrients or, even, the type of juice) was now far too subtle in the context of the shopping experience. Sure the new and soon-to-be-abandoned packaging looks bland or generic. But it’s biggest problem was that it was simply too clever for itself and completely insensitive to the consumer experience.

Tropicana offers a pretty wide variety of very similar products. Pulp free OJ; Medium pulp OJ; High pulp OJ; OJ with Calcium; OJ with Calcium and pulp; a “Healthy Kids” version; an antioxidant version; Grapefruit Juice; Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice; Ruby Red Grapefruit with Calcium, etc. 15 varieties standing side-by-side in the grocer’s refrigerator. The new design presents only the slightest difference between them. In short: the odds of tossing the wrong one into the shopping cart are pretty high. The fact that nobody picked this up before it became a multi-million dollar fiasco is hard to believe.

Is it possible that amidst all the talk about customer-centric marketing and understanding what customers want and creating an emotional connection with customers and yada yada that Tropicana simply failed to think about how they were actually communicating relatively important product information to their consumers? In a word, yes.

Thank you Tropicana for giving us a new case study to illustrate one very simple fact: grandiose rationale behind a product redesign does not permit you to ignore the most basic rules of communication.

And, thanks, too for seeing the error of your ways and having the courage to announce a do-over. I’m sure that the millions of dollars you squandered will be recouped from chumps like me who accidentally bought your poorly labeled Orange Strawberry Banana juice instead of what I actually wanted.

Jonathan Paisner

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