Lessons from the Tropicana Rebranding Disaster

PepsiCo has been trying to rebrand the Pepsi, Gatorade, Tropicana and Mountain Dew products. How's it going? Try this: "It represents perhaps the largest and most cavalier destruction of brand value we will ever see," says Grant McCracken, in his excellent analysis of what's gone wrong.

Peter Arnell, the Pepsi man assigned to the Tropicana orange juice rebrand, described his job thusly:

The objective was very, very clearly laid out.  We needed to rejuvenate, reengineer, rethink, reparticipate in popular culture. 

Here's McCracken:

But let's look at what Peter Arnell…thinks this means.  His first act of office, apparently, was to embark upon what BusinessWeek calls a "five-week world tour of trendy design houses."

This is where he went searching for culture?  In design houses?  Dude.

Classic. Spending time in design houses instead of spending time with your customers.

Tropicana rolled out a new design for its orange juice container — the old design on the left, the new design on the right. Consumers were furious and sales plunged 20%. It's since been pulled from the shelves.6a00d8341c4e2e53ef011570396118970bJUICE

McCracken goes on to playfully mock the hip design types who think reparticipating in popular culture means just being "cool" and for ignoring the emotional needs of the 99% of the population who do not wear black thick rimmed artist glassses:

If you want to "reparticipate" in popular culture, well, you have your work cut out for you.  Going to design houses, that's a good idea…. And then, well, really, why not get out of the design houses into the lives and the homes and the kitchens of the other Americans?

The problem is simple.  When Arnell thinks design, he thinks cool.  When we ask him to redesign a Tropicana package, he's going to bless it with notions of cool now circulating in his own and other design houses. 

The trouble is that culture is only marginally about cool.  Cool may be the most active, the most talked about, the most flattering part of culture, but it is also a relatively small and evanescent part of culture.  Let's call it 20%. 

When you are told to put the brand in touch with popular culture, touring design houses won't do it.  Really, what you want to do, Peter, is talk to the owner-operators of this culture, Americans…living by the millions…out there…

Peter, here's the thing.  It's not about you.  It's not what you think is hip and happening.  It's not about cool.  It's not about New York City or design houses or startling images of the future, or breathtaking mastery of the design vocabulary, or breakthroughs that reinvent the brand.

It's about Americans at their breakfast table.

Bottom Line: For entrepreneurs everywhere, it's about the customer. It's about the customer. It's about the customer. Tropicana "branding experts" were wandering the halls of hip design houses instead of sitting at the breakfast table with Americans who at the moment are hurting for cash and craving stability and familiarity.

13 Responses to Lessons from the Tropicana Rebranding Disaster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *