Tropicana, a case for open source marketing

It would be so great to have free and unfettered, yes open source, access to exactly what really happened with Tropicana. We could all benefit by not making the kinds of mistakes that were obviously made here. As I said yesterday, its official, the new Tropicana packaging will be taken off the shelf. Why you ask? In my view is the answer is simple, a toxic combination of hubris, cultural naivete, and incompetence.

This was caused I suspect by Peter Arnell, Neil Campbell and all other senior decision makers at Pepsico (except the professionals in their creative services group who were, in all likelihood, kept totally out of the loop on this one) assuming that the Tropicana brand belonged to them, not the consumers. They couldn’t have been listening. Again why?tropicana-carton-no 

According to Neil Campbell, President of Tropicana North America, in an article in Monday’s New York Times, they found out that some buyers are actually passionate about packaging. What were they thinking? 

In Peter Arnell’s case the answer seems simple, a long history of ego blinded by hubris. Its my brand, the client has given it to me, and I’ll do what I want with it. In the case of Pepsi marketing management, they were clearly tone deaf, gullible, and culturally insensitive to the strong brand history. Something I called, in my column yesterday, the “living history” of Tropicana.

But there is a third culprit, and one that now may be the most culpable, and one that has not been mentioned in virtually any of the press I have read, the research agency. Don’t know who they are or the methodology they used. Either Pepsi used the wrong research tools or they weren’t listening to the answers. No competent market research firm would have allowed Pepsi, or even Peter Arnell, to stray so far from the heritage of the brand. If the research was done correctly, the signs would have been obvious. 

The Times article quotes Campbell as saying last month, “The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them”  .  .  .  then last Friday, “What we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have. That wasn’t something that came out in the research.”

Packaging is a hard thing to research, and no fault of theirs, consumers aren’t comfortable, let alone eloquent, talking about aesthetic issues in lucid ways. Which means that everyone needs to listen very carefully, and good professionals know how. I’ve seen it happen first hand on heritage brands like Arm & Hammer and Duracell. Its amazing how clear the signals can be with well designed research. But designers can’t be blinded by ego, marketers shouldn’t assume they understand everything about the cultural heritage of their brand, and perhaps most importantly in this case, research agencies need to continue building better methodologies for getting at the “living history” of the brand. 

Campbell ended the interview saying, “I feel it’s the right thing to do, to innovate as a company. I wouldn’t want to stop innovating as a result of this. At the same time, if consumers are speaking, you have to listen.” Yes but your research agency needs to know how to get them making the right kind of noises.

I am left with more questions than answers at this point. Yes we know the design didn’t work, but why was it led so astray? Wouldn’t it be great if Pepsi would share the step by step methodology that led to this fiasco. Open source marketing, we could all learn from that.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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One Response to Tropicana, a case for open source marketing

  1. Pingback: Our Top 10 List of Packaging Stories for 2009 « The Package Unseen

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