Tropicana and the consumer-brand dialogue

Posted by Rob Walker on February 25, 2009
Posted Under: Backlashing,Murketing,The Designed Life,The People's Marketing

Somebody was interviewing me today about the book and the current economy and all that, and the conversation turned to Tropicana bowing to consumer pressure (apparently) to junk its recent redesign. What does that episode say about the present state of the “secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are”?

Well, for one thing it’s an example of one manifestation of that dialogue becoming somewhat more open — in the sense that one of the things the Web does is make visible consumer sentiments that would have been harder to quantify in the past.

More interesting, though, I would suggest, is that the episode underscores the surprising degree to which consumers want to participate in this dialogue. By that I mean: If nobody cares about brands anymore (as various experts have claimed for years, and are claiming once again with the recession as the new rationale), then why in the world would anybody go to the trouble of emailing a company, or starting a Facebook group, about package design? After all, the juice didn’t change. So, you know, who cares?

Lots of people, that’s who. Marginal Utility picks up on a comment from some Tropicana exec that the decision was made because the brand’s “most loyal consumers” were supposedly unhappy: “That they bother to complain is precisely what makes them loyal,” Rob Horning writes. “Others would probably just buy something else without a second thought. Myself, I would prefer to be one of those others.”

To me, that’s definitely a more reasoned response: I mentioned that we at Murketing HQ disliked the new design, and responded by trying some alternatives. While we talk about this kind of consumer/design trivia all the time around here, it never occurs to us to get involved in some kind of Web-enabled protest movement, or at least not about the way a package looks.

After all, it’s not like the aesthetics of Tropicana is some kind of important issue worth rallying around — certainly nothing worth treating like a consumer-rights battle that pitted the grassroots against corporate power.

And yet, there’s at least some evidence that certain observers see this incident in precisely those terms. For example, Marginal Utility also noted the Kottke entry on the Tropicana episode, which declares: “We won!”

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

so why do you think people trashed Tropicana’s redesign but no one cared about Pepsi’s equally insipid new packaging?

Written By Brian on February 27th, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

I did see plenty of complaints about the Pepsi redesign. Not as many, and not as loud, but still. Maybe Tropicana drinkers are more “passionate about the brand”?

Written By Rob Walker on March 1st, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

Possible reasons why Pepsi’s redesign didn’t receive as many complaints:
1) The new Pepsi logo didn’t represent a very drastic shift. Same colors, etc. Just modernized it a bit.
2) It seems as if soda companies change their logo quite often. It just comes with the territory and is something Pepsi’s younger purchasers probably expect from the brand, which has always positioned itself as new/young/wannabe cutting edge, etc.
3) In contrast, Tropicana’s most loyal audience — probably older and more female than Pepsi — are perhaps more likely to complain and stand up for themselves in the marketplace (through complaining, etc) than Pepsi.
4) (My opinion): Pepsi’s new logo looks fine. Tropicana’s looked like a generic brand, which both caused confusion and made anyone who appreciates design shudder.

Written By Ryan on March 1st, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

Here’s another reason the Pepsi logo didn’t many complaints (in my opinion): It is so unrecognizable as the Pepsi logo that people don’t know it’s changed.

The “modernized” logo is suppose to suggest a smile. To me it suggest an ad agency grinning while they take their ill gained cash and run to the bank.

I’m not complaining – I’m observing – and I’ve observed that the new Pepsi logo blows.

Written By Allen Weaver on March 3rd, 2009 @ 10:16 am

while we’re on (or were on) the subject of orange juice, here’s a Q&A with the author of an upcoming book devoted to the OJ industry:

Written By Brian on March 3rd, 2009 @ 3:16 pm
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