Sometimes we can learn a lot from branding fails. It can help to learn from past mistakes.

Tropicana, a well-known brand that sells orange juice worldwide, rebranded its existing orange juice packaging with a new design for the North American market in 2009. Pepsi Co. owns the brand. The new design was rolled out nationwide with a 35 million dollar advertising campaign.

To Tropicana’s surprise, the majority of its consumers rejected the new packaging and criticized the new design. The launch was such a big fail that Tropicana had to revert to the original package design.

So, what were the reasons for this big fail on Tropicana’s part?

The advertising campaign that Tropicana invested in totaled around 35 million dollars to promote the new juice brand. The Advertising campaign and the packaging were both created by the same agency – Arnell.

Tropicana launched the new packaging for its best-selling product in North America in January of 2009. Tropicana Pure Premium, the juice brand with sales revenues totaling more than 700 million dollars per year, was relaunched as a more modern version of the famous brand.

Consumers began to criticize the new design only days later, especially on social networks. Sales dropped by more than 20% several months later. This massive decrease in sales represented a loss of 30 million dollars for Tropicana, and subsequently, Pepsi Co.

In the meantime, Tropicana’s competitors gained the sales lost by taking advantage of Tropicana’s crisis. In February of 2009, Tropicana announced that its orange juice packaging would return to its original design. Within a few months, the old cartons were back on supermarket shelves. This redesign eventually cost Tropicana more than 50 million dollars.

The original packaging and the new one:

To understand this big fail in Tropicana’s strategy, we need to evaluate what Tropicana changed in its package design.

Peter Arnell, director of the creative agency Arnell, stated:

“We thought it would be important to take this brand and bring it or evolve it into a more current or modern state.”

The images:

One of the most significant changes was an image of a big, transparent glass full of orange juice, rather than the original design of a straw inside of an orange.

“Historically, we always show the outside of the orange. What was fascinating was that we had never shown the product called the juice.”

The lid:

The orange was moved to the lid of the bottle by the agency. The idea is creative, and the cap had the shape and texture of an orange – that you can twist, or squeeze to retrieve a fresh orange juice. The advertising campaign that coincided included the description “Squeeze, it’s natural.”

“We wanted to take the orange and put it somewhere. We engineered this interesting little squeeze cap here … so that the notion of squeezing the orange was implied ergonomically.”

The logo:

Another essential difference between the two cartons was the new logo design.

The original logo was horizontal followed by the name “Pure Premium,” and the new logo was vertical with a more modern font. The size of the logo was also reduced to highlight the statement: “100% Orange Pure and Natural.”

The advertising campaign released with the new package design

Tropicana released a new advertising campaign along with its updated packaging. The main message of this campaign was “Squeeze, it’s natural.”

“The whole idea of ‘squeeze,’ ” Mr. Campbell stated, is to play up “the functional benefit” of orange juice in providing fruit for people’s daily diets “and the emotional connection people have with Tropicana.”


Understanding the consumers’ reactions: what went wrong?

The emotional bond with the brand
“We underestimated the deep emotional bond they had with the original packaging” […]“What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers has. That wasn’t something that came out in the research. […] Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.” explained Mr. Campbell, president at Tropicana North America in Chicago.

The role of packaging in purchasing decisions processes
The problem may go beyond the emotional bond consumers had with the old packaging.

It is imperative to consider the role of package design in the branding process. Young and Ciummo stated in their article that packaging redesigns often come with a small decrease in sales, but this tends to be temporary and has never been as severe as the 20% decrease experienced by Tropicana.

In this particular case, consumers didn’t recognize the product on the supermarket shelve. Some consumers stated that they saw the “100% Orange Juice” and wondered if the product was still the same as the Tropical Pure Premium they always purchased and trusted. Then, some consumers became confused when the main reference elements for recognizing the product were missing. These included:

  • The focus on “100% Orange” instead of “Pure Premium.”
  • The original logo
  • The orange with the straw
  • The feeling of the new design:
    The packaging had a more simplistic design than the original one. A large percentage of consumers described it as “ugly,” and felt that it looked as if it was a generic supermarket brand. The new look confused consumers and made the brand look cheap when consumers previously perceived Tropicana to be a premium brand.

What Can we learn from this case study?

Branding and package design is a complex subject. Often, it is difficult to predict the target market’s reaction to a change in design and strategy.

However, we can learn several lessons from Tropicana’s strategic fail:

Often, an emotional bond develops between consumers and the brand that they love, based on the appearance of the product. Consumers may feel betrayed or disappointed if they suddenly see new brand elements on the packaging of a brand that they love, primarily if they can no longer identify with the new design. It is essential to consider the target consumer before making any changes to a product’s package design.

Branding elements should not all change at one time when creating a new package design. Tropicana tried to modernize the brand, but it forgot to give regard to one of the most critical branding rules that any company should consider: the identification of the product and the current recognition of the target consumer. Tropicana changed too many elements of the brand at one time, confusing customers at the very moment that they wanted to purchase orange juice. They switch included:

  • a new logo
  • a new slogan
  • a new image
  • new typography
  • and a new lid

If you are considering a revamp of your product’s packaging, be careful not to change everything all at once. Changes need to completed progressively, while testing the market, to make sure the consumer will still recognize the brand after the change.

This lesson only applies to successful brands, who are making a healthy profit, such as Tropicana. If your brand or your product are not doing well, you may want to consider a complete rebrand, as this can be an excellent solution to save the flailing product or service currently on the market. Many brands, including Herbal Essences, have used a strategy to make significate changes to their packaging, driving more sales in the process.

Packaging is the voiceless salesman

Your product’s package is the last communication element that your brand has with consumers at the critical point of purchasing. Content and design are essential to the brand because they influence the consumer’s decision at the last minute. Tropicana’s consumers couldn’t recognize the new product design, so they couldn’t love it and therefore decided not to purchase it.

Package design and advertising have different communication rules

Package design and advertising are very different communication tools.
With advertising, a company has more time to communicate emotions and brand values. The goal of advertising is to communicate and inform with the long-term in mind. It’s more flexible communication method over time.

Package design requires that you communicate more immediately and directly to the consumer – in an easily identifiable and clear manner because the consumer is about to make their final decision to make a purchase. The strategies of the two, however, should always be in line and support each other.

The Bottom Line:

The Tropicana redesign illustrates for us the considerable power of packaging. Even though the result was negative for Tropicana, It’s important to keep in mind that this same power often does work in a positive direction. It also highlights the importance of market research and communicating with actual customers before developing a strategy to rebrand or redesign a product’s packaging.

– Online: CBS News, NY Times, NY Times (2)
– Marketing Journal: Young Scott y Ciummo Vicenzo. “Managing risk in a package redesign: what can we learn from Tropicana? “. Brand Packaging (August 2009).