Monday, April 20, 2009

Being squeezed

When a member of the Lovemarks community describes his Lovemark as "an everyday, close to religious, choice for me", you have to sit up and take notice. This is how ‘Jeffrey’ described Tropicana orange juice. If you follow the ups and downs of brands, you will have heard a lot about Tropicana in the media over the last few months. None of it good. PepsiCo – who are responsible for Tropicana – redesigned the packaging of this iconic product, put it on the shelves, and stood by in shock as all hell let loose. According to Information Resources Inc., unit sales dropped 20%! (AdAge).

Why did PepsiCo change the packaging without so much as a word to the people who buy it? Because they were convinced they owned the brand and that some discussion over mood boards with a focus groups or two would capture the contribution of consumers. Not so. As PepsiCo learned and as the world now knows, Tropicana consumers were furious when the iconic orange with its protruding straw was removed. Designers and brand managers might see it as out-of-date and generic, but shoppers refused to see past it. The result was a barrage of emails, phone calls, and letters to PepsiCo demanding the old packaging back in no uncertain terms. Thanks to online media, this wave of response was very fast and easy for consumers to deliver. The old days of sitting down, penning a letter of complaint, getting an envelope, and going to the post office are long gone.

PepsiCo are a smart company. They reacted fast and returned to the familiar packaging that people turned out to be so committed to. Does this mean there should never be change? Of course not. The new PepsiCo campaign is a joy in itself – XOXO. What it does show is that the consumer is boss.

I have no doubt that Tropicana could change their packaging to the delight of their customers. Great design coupled with a deep understanding of taste and need would do it. If they do decide to venture out again after this most recent experience, they could check out Naoto Fukasawa. He has done the most incredible designs for fruit juice containers with the look and feel of the fruit they contain. Clear, pure, and very, very tasty.


Bruce said...

Kevin -
I remember shopping shortly after the packaging changed. I couldn't find Tropicana. I couldn't believe the store was out of Tropicana, but it wasn't there. There were cartons and cartons of a generic store brand. I chose my second favorite brand and went on my way. I figured out later that the "cartons and cartons of a generic store brand" were, in fact, Tropicana. Who knew? I bet a whole lot of people did what I did and it added up to -20% pretty quickly.

Bruce Cole, Chicago

Harshil Karia said...

Hi Kevin,

You can also compare this with the case of Facebook. The new layout received almost unlimited scorn. Their privacy policies were also immensely debated. The result, they are now involving users to get make future changes by getting them to vote on issues (the Facebook Democracy) and voice their opinions.

I think there is a tight rope that brands need to walk. On one hand its not the best strategy to *only* listen to your customers because they can be wrong sometimes and it doesn't ensure that you are one step ahead of your competition, but if you don't listen, they get mad!

Over time, i think brands will innovate with changes by themselves but they will integrate customers to recommend them to fine tune those changes.

Anonymous said...

Way back in High School I read Vance Packard's "The Hidden persuaders" it fostered in me an interest in advertising. When is saw Kevin on CNN's meet teh CEO's it was a continuation of that interest.
One story int he Packard book was how a US beer brand ( Sorry can;t recall the name) changed their ads from working guys having a brew after work to a more upscale social setting. sales dropped and former fans of the brew reported a "change in flavour"

This is all deja vu to a keen fan of promotion and advertising :)

Mike in Ottawa Canada

Where it was 28 ( 82f) up from zero C ( 32f) two days ago...go figure :)

Elle Smith Fagan said...

Thank you for this story. I wondered...

As an artist, this was my thought:
There were ways to update the cartons without losing the image elements that we love, but they went too far, with re-design, and the updated design looked cheap or shallow, or something - as though what was inside was not as good.

So the public reaction was bound to happen.

I guess Tropicana learned how much we love them, if we reponded so caringly.

As for me, they send 'uppermidlife" ladies to cranberry juice - the goodstuff - not the sugary ones - so I almost missed the Tropicana debacle, because I was having to find and enjoy the best cranberry juice at the time.

Oh, la!

Patrick said...

I agree with Bruce in Chicago

The designers thought they were selling OJ, and lost sight of the fact the real value add was Tropicana which they carelessly added as an afterthought.

Patrick Bachler

Kevin Roberts said...

Harshal, If there’s one cardinal rule of marketing any product, it has got to be: “The consumer is boss”. This quote comes from P&G’s CEO A.G. Lafley and it basically means that you have got to put the consumer at the center of everything you do. When you don’t follow this rule, (as Tropicana and Facebook found out the hard way) it all falls apart.