Orange-Juice Firestorm: Tropicana Redesign

By in Packaging Design on February 25, 2009

The recent debacle over Tropicana withdrawing its redesigned carton really seems to have touched a nerve in the design/branding/ marketing community. I wouldn’t have thought that orange juice could evoke such passionate discourse – among professionals as well as consumers.

But hey, one can never tell exactly what’s going to set ablaze opinions anymore. And unlike farces such as the New Coke incident, we now have the internet and its vast array of social networking outlets to propagate the firestorm.

Naturally, I have my own share of opinions about it too.

I like designs that are clean and sleek. But I still can’t help but feel that Tropicana reversing their decision is a victory. For almost the entire second half of the 20th Century, the trend in design and branding was in reducing information, paring down, simplifying. In many cases, this strengthened and intensified the essence of the communication. But often times it did more to make things just bland. The previous Tropicana design was rich and lively – it moved one’s imagination. In many respects it possessed a lot of what we love about vintage packaging … without seeming the least bit “vintage.” A tad dated perhaps, but not slavishly retro in any one particular element.

And maybe we shouldn’t bag too much on the design team that came up with the new carton design. In any creative work — be it a song, a painting, or a package design — it can be a very fine line between “spare” or “sleek” or “clean” on one hand, and “generic” or “bland” on the other hand. The Tropicana team just happened to have gotten on the wrong side of that line.

Or did they? That new design is indeed surprisingly weak overall. Too much so. Could this be a ploy by Tropicana? There are still many people who claim the New Coke debacle of the 1980s was all just a publicity stunt. And if it is, it’ll probably work tremendously – this week, the name “Tropicana” is emblazoned on any corner of the Internet that might possibly care about it. Whether or not it was on purpose, the attention is surely translating to pure gold for the brand.

I would really like to see an update of the previous design. Just not such a radical one. In this day and age, I think it takes some courage to resist the urge to make things really sleek. That is the prevailing aesthetic now, influenced by the tempo, attitudes, and values of our time. But orange juice – like certain venerable brands such as Coke, Harley Davidson, and Jack Daniels — don’t have to hue so much to contemporary whims.

Good old O.J. is largely about tradition – about drinking the right stuff for the right reason, because you’ve always known it’s the thing to do. Brand managers and designers don’t really have to put a slick, “now” spin on that to make it a hit.



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Tropicana doing this as a stunt is truly a naive thought. They tried to get it right and paid a good buck to do it. Unfortunately they hired the wrong guys. Remember, even fresh orange juice is a commodity. It comes from oranges. What do you think happens when someone tries the next fresh squeezed orange juice? They realize it's pretty much the same as their old favorite... Do your homework on Arnell and you'll see lots of talk and a trail of failures. They seem to be masters of their own PR and great salesmen but they keep missing some of the fundamentals - the orange with a straw graphic reinforces the idea of freshness in an iconic way. They dumped the association and the trademark that made finding the product easy. Design systems to help convey segmentation seem to be way beyond their specialties.
Couldnt agree more...i've purchased the wrong juice 3 times now.
Of course it's silly to think that Tropicana did it intentionally, Jim -- I say it with tongue well in cheek. But the absurdity of suggesting a company doing such a thing hasn't stopped countless people from still forwarding such conspiracy silliness about the New Coke debacle even decades after the fact. And let's not forget that despite the enormity of Coke's screwup in the mid ‘80s, the brand emerged stronger than ever than ever when the dust had settled. In effect, Coke had given consumers The Gift of Missing It -- nothing stokes the flames of desire more than not having what you like but take for granted.
I can not find the type of juice I need, Calcium + Vitamin D. I need to read all the cartons in the display, one by one. So I spend like 10 minutes looking for it and many time I did not fins it even if it is right in fron of me.
I walked past their spot and didn't even know those cartons were orange juice - let alone Tropicana. I totally agree with you about that Tropicana orange juice us an overextended brand. People can just take vitamin supplements if they want calcium. Maybe a group of interns came up with the new concept.
As a Tropicana customer, it's not blandness that bothered me -- it's usability. Take a look at my blog on : the new packaging eliminated the cues that identified which kind of juice one was purchasing.
Excellent points indeed -- when you get down to it, how the carton looks only matters to newcomers to the product ... and even then only subconsciously in most cases. But the problem of Tropicana’s huge range of different orange juices isn't entirely a communication issue -- there's only so much design can do overcome unwieldy problems. Tropicana has, in my opinion, simply extended their line too far. And so, like Crest toothpaste and other such brands, they force their loyal customers to suffer endlessly staring at a wall of different permutations in the store, or end up coming home with the wrong stuff. Tropicana needs to trim their line. The old carton design had its own recognition problems in that regard.
Ha ha! Funny thought about the interns running (ruining?) the brand, Jan. Strange how seemingly obvious common-sense things seem to get overlooked in big decisions like this. Do the people who decide on such ineffective packaging or massive line extensions ever actually go to grocery stores? And if so, do they really like spending 15 minutes choosing an orange juice? The idea of quickly grabbing the stuff one likes is one of the most important cornerstones of branding -- the process should simplify life for consumers. Apparently not for Tropicana (and other similar brands).
My take is that because other brands had copied their basic graphic look that Tropicana marketing felt they had to change to stay unique. I agree they could have moved in a better direction for legibility. Interesting feedback from the blog, I guess it is on all of our tables in the morning and gets lots of early critiques !
Yeah Alex, I think like any other creative endeavor, there's always going to be me-tooism in packaging design. Sad, but human nature is tenacious. Glad you're enjoying the feedback too. It's been a lively, interesting discussion. Thanks everyone for weighing in on it!
I think you mean "hew" rather than "hue so much to contemporary whims." No charge!
The new packaging makes it difficult to buy the right juice. I thought my grocer had gone to a generic brand at first. My husband never comes home with the right juice now. I have never been so irritated by a packaging change before!
I love the added Omega 3 juice - a great way to get my kids to add it to their diets (they won't eat fish or take fish oil capsules). Now if I could only find the right juice with the awful new packaging...
Thanks Speller. That's what happens when I get my fingers blazing away too quickly!
Really Jan? Do you really mean you couldn't identify it as orange juice even with a big fat glass of orange juice on the carton? I think you mean you missed the brand you were looking for surely?
The packaging changed the taste for many users. That is the fault. All they had to do was deepen the orange color slightly in the original and maybe make the size of the orange more prominent. That was it. Package redesign will affect the taste.
I don't like the packaging this generic look is very tired looking. The orange as a cap is cute though. What I dont like is the 59oz we get instead of 64!!!!
i stock grocery and dairy i don't mind when there is a package change but Tropicana made my job really hard i had to look at each number just to make shore they were in the rite spots
Oh Tropicana! My most favourite fruit juice. Sugar free and deadly HFCS free. Why packaging was changed? Before changing those fellows should have done massive ad campaign for change. Remember the campaign how Coke added the ribbon or Esso became Exxon. Have they added any supplements or viagra or reduced the fat content? My family will see again and again new pack before they part their precious chips.(sorry there is no fat in oranges)
Whatever happened to the OJ/tangerine mix? Much their best product. I can't find any other forum on which to ask this question free speech platform. Speak out your mind with or in other words post anything you want as long as it correspondence with its terms and conditions.