Change is good … except when it’s not

By in Packaging Design on March 29, 2009

I’ve been covering a lot of stories about brands reacting to the sour economy, and an interesting pattern seems to be emerging. Companies are diverging toward the extremes.

On one hand, some companies have decided that in order to attract new customers, a radical, hard-to-ignore approach is needed. These companies contort and recast familiar package-design elements until there’s almost nothing familiar left of them.

And on the other hand are the traditionalists. These folks have decided to appeal to people’s need for calm and reassurance in such troubled times. This sort of company steadfastly refuses to change thing about their venerable package designs, no matter how just-plain-ancient they seem.

Both theories sound good. And indeed, there are successes from either camp of late.

But there are spectacular missteps too. Usually they come from a company jumping headlong into one of these two extremes when they should be in the other one. The most obvious example is Tropicana, which I’ve reported on a great deal in this blog.

The Tropicana story is a great example of a company zigging when they should have been zagging. The vintage, traditional approach would apparently have served them just fine. But instead, they found themselves pursuing the radical redesign approach to the tune of $35 million or so.

Ouch. The spanking came hard.

And apparently the steps to the “wrong” extreme don’t have to be all that big to be wrong. Heinz took that odd little pickle off their label (did anyone but bored children and weird brand zealots ever notice it when it was there?) and a major blowout occurred over the omission. Oops.

Okay, I doubt the Great Missing Pickle Debacle really (realllllllllly) hurt sales much. But dang – touchy touchy!

It just goes to show you, the attitudes of the bad economy are proving rather extreme.

One company that seems to be heeding the lesson of all this is the Eight O’ Clock coffee brand. A while back, I reported that they were redesigning their packaging, and letting the public vote on which of two designs they liked best.

Well, apparently when faced with the choice of A or B, the public collectively chose "C" — none of the above. When you go to the website for the voting, Eight O’ Clock says that they’re postponing the change, and that there’s no guarantee that the design will be as radical as the winning version when they do finally change the packaging.

Good for them. My crystal ball (okay, my blog feedback, my deep sense of nostalgia, and my own pretty-good design sense) was saying the brand was headed for a fall with that one.

Glad to have you still around, old Eight O’ Clock — not my usual brand of coffee, but just for this classy move I’m going out and buying a bag or three!



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An interesting side note to the 8 O'Clock coffee (non)redesign. According to an article in Reuters last week, the brand's sales were about 30% higher for February than in the 12 months prior, so even though it may not go to the dramatic expense of a package redesign, it's reaping benefits of the consumer-driven promotion. A link to the are on my blog at
New packaging should be Tested. There is ample support for different strokes for different folks. You can keep a brand alive and even extend it to broader audience by new or different packages or jars.
Thanks for the info, Marny. It is interesting how even this little check swing resulted in a sales jump. But I like the brand, so I say what the heck -- good for them!
Good point, Jack. But it's a delicate art. And the bottom line is you can't really please everyone. Sometimes that tiny, tested minority makes an awful lot of noise!
Hey David, I think people are definitely responding well to the traditionalist, home nesting vibe. Radical seems too scary for many. In fact since 9/11 I've heard a lot about the resurgence of the 'domestic arts' - baking, knitting, etc and this is reflected in the bazillions of blogs out there of this type.
Great site...keep up the good work.