Hellogoodbye To Tropicana

February 28th, 2009
Posted by Evan Rowe in Branding


Look at them. Just look at them, would you? Pretty soon, the only way you’ll be able to gaze upon this package design is to do so digitally. Why, you ask? Because Pepsi saw fit to renege on the new design after there was apparently enough “public outcry” over it. Quite frankly, I don’t see why such a huge fuss was made over it. Did people really miss their iconic (albeit silly) orange with the straw sticking out of it that much that they felt the need to write strongly worded letters and send in hate mail? Apparently the answer is yes. The fact that Pepsi actually did a big old Command-Z on this is what shocks me more than anything, because quite frankly it is a huge mistake. Keep reading to find out why.


There, my friends, is one of the new designs in the wild. The endangered carton stands tall and proud, preening its fibers and hoping to attract a mate. It is elegant, it is confident, and it is honest. And yet, it is weeks away from fading into the ether of our collective memory, which is incredibly absurd. Perhaps I’m a lone fan of minimalist communication in packaging but I cannot wrap my mind around what people felt was so wrong with the design. It’s instantly recognizable, it features the product about as well as any juice carton could, the typography is very pretty, and the whole thing is delightfully uncluttered. Also, the color-coded system for discerning the pulp content is new and easy to understand, and the orange-shaped screw cap is an amazing touch. The firm responsible did an admirable job.

And yet, the masses rebelled. They said that it was “ugly” or “stupid,” and resembling “a generic bargain brand” or a “store brand.” “Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice? Because I do, and the new cartons stink,” said one particularly keen and deep thinking individual. I can understand the comments about it resembling a generic brand or a store brand juice, but unproductive, uninformative criticisms based simply on the idea that something is different do not warrant valid complaints in my book. This is a textbook example of why people need to become more educated in the principles of design, so that they can better appreciate subtleties or at least properly articulate their distaste. That, however, is a discussion for another day.


So, Pepsi decided to actually take this feedback to heart and discontinue the new packaging and reinstate the old, previously discontinued packaging starting in March. All because people complained about something that was new and different. This is a terrible, terrible state of things. Pepsi has effectively established a precedent for other companies to now consider when faced with the initial wave of reaction from introducing changes to product lines. This reminds me of what has happened virtually every time Facebook has updated its interface, but they knew better than to revert just because people needed some time to adjust. (Thankfully they do listen to their users on the issues worth raising a stink about, particularly as it pertains to the recent Terms of Use debacle).

This is the exact opposite of what should have happened. The packaging was really not that bad at all. It was just new, people flipped out, and Pepsi rolled on over. Instead, they should be focusing on feedback about their other recent rebranding; particularly, their own. If you’ve talked to me about it, you know that I cannot stand the new Pepsi logo. I think the rest of the packaging is stellar, but the logo itself irks me. I’m all for updating a brand and letting it evolve, but the new smiling globe is utterly pointless and very displeasing to look at. I appreciate the effort put forth to make the smile “flex” across the different types of Pepsi, but the logic/philosophy behind the smile’s reason for being has yet to be justified to me.

So, what we have on our hands here is Pepsi giving in to complaints about a design that wasn’t broken while another more important and certainly more polarizing brand update is allowed to keep marching around merrily, blissfully unaware of its own grotesqueness. I think this piece from Lawrence Yang sums up what I’m talking about pretty nicely:


Of course, the real victim in all of this is the agency responsible for the design. My sympathies go out to the designers who worked on this and who (I’m assuming) were dumbstruck to learn their work was being rolled back. As much as we try not to take criticism personally and separate ourselves from our work, it is virtually impossible not to place emotional investment in everything we do, so something like this must certainly come as a major blow. These folks did some good, solid work and they are now essentially being told it was a waste of time. At least they get to keep the money from the deal, since it was Pepsi’s decision to roll things back, but regardless this sort of thing is typically regarded as an insult.

Resisting to change for the sake of resisting change has long been something that has driven me up the wall, and this is the latest entry on my two-mile long parchment scroll of incidents such of this ilk. At this point, my biggest hope is that we won’t end up seeing this become a trend in rebranding efforts to come. As for the rest of you, here’s your old familiar packaging you can expect to see back on shelves soon. I hope you’re happy.


In case you’re not sick of reading yet, or in case you want to know more about exactly what happened, you can check out this article on the New York Times to get a more comprehensive scoop.
There’s also a great writeup on about the issues this poses over on Subtraction.

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    8 Responses to
    “Hellogoodbye To Tropicana”

  1. I was the “particularly keen and deep thinking individual” who emailed the NY Times columnist with the comment that said, “Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice?” Thank you.

    (Or, maybe you were being sarcastic …)

  2. Evan Rowe
    March 1st, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Sorry to say, but it was indeed sarcasm on my part. Perhaps I am being quick to judge, and you may well have had more to say in your email to justify your comment that was not included in the article; if that was the case, I really would like to hear what else you thought about it. I can assure you, however, that “package-design people” are no different from regular people (presumably like yourself), and we do in fact shop for orange juice on a regular basis.

  3. Link
    March 1st, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Even if package-design people don’t shop for orange juice on a regular basis, they should start when they’re hired to design the packaging for orange juice. Research research research!

  4. The rest of what I had emailed to the columnist is under the line, below. But look at the picture you used to show a shelf of orange juice. That was my point, that the different versions of the product were harder to tell apart in the new packaging. I also commented on something in that column, which indicated that the packaging was designed in part ot compete with sports drinks and other “non-OJ” drinks.


    I don’t care about the marketing, but I do care about the cartons. I encountered them this weekend, when I did the weekly shopping. The cartons minimize the text that tells you what kind of orange juice is in the package (pulp, no pulp, a little pulp, vitamin-enhanced, orange-and-some-other-juice, or even no-orange-juice-at-all).

    The old Tropicana cartons had large text and distinctive colors, to help you find the type of juice you wanted. The new ones have a standardized look and smaller type, which means that the consumer — who is me — has to stand there examining the cartons more closely. Not to mention the fact that it makes it harder for the shelf stockers.

    I don’t understand why these packaging changes had to be part of the new “branding.” These marketing geniuses may not be aware of the fact that when you buy a carton of orange juice, you do it by going to the orange juice case in the market. The orange juice cartons are not next to the energy drinks or flavored waters or anything else with which they claim they are in competition. That stuff is off in other, nonrefrigerated aisles.

    If the brand makes it harder for the consumer to find what he or she is looking for at the orange juice case, the consumer may give up and pick that brand which makes it easier to “grab and go.”

  5. Siobhan
    March 2nd, 2009 at 11:10 am

    I don’t think it is wrong to set a precedent. The issue isn’t that the masses don’t understand design. The issue is that the designers didn’t understand the masses. Which is our job! Everyday joes and janes can’t be expected to have a little bit of knowledge about everything, and we can’t expect them to appreciate good design for design sake. Consumers appreciate good design when it adds value to their day. As mark said, the features were easy to see to allow grab and go.

    Design communicates, and brands touch something deeper within us than just a product’s appearance. Tropicana had a good thing. Their name IS synonymous with orange juice, and the straw in the orange, no matter how cheesy, tapped into something for their customers. It said this isn’t processed, this isn’t messed with, this is pure, fresh- straight from the source.

    The other thing that they seemed to have missed is that their product and the old straw in the orange schtick actually had crossed over to be an icon. Your feeling about Pepsi, is how people feel about tropicana. Don’t mess with what they relied upon and know and love. A short step in evolution is all that is needed here.

    All in all, I am glad they listened to their consumers. I do like the new packaging, it is modern and is far better aesthetic than the old. But it missed the mark, it didn’t speak reliably to their consumers. I wish they could have successfully married the two. That is what good design should do.

  6. Evan Rowe
    March 2nd, 2009 at 12:52 pm


    Thanks so much for sharing the rest of your email here. You actually raised several really good points and quite frankly, I am inclined to agree with a lot of what you say. It seems the biggest fault of the new packaging isn’t necessarily the way they chose to feature the work so much as it is how subtle the pertinent information was made. While I don’t think it’s invisible by any means, I can see that it’s certainly not as obvious or easy to interpret as it ought to be. Where in most instances you look for the large splash of color that you’re familiar with denoting the amount of pulp you like, you are instead forced to search for a thin strip at the top that can be obscured by shadows or price tags.

    The unfortunate thing about this design is I’m not sure there’s any sort of compromise that could be made between the new style of that packaging and featuring that information more prominently, which explains in large part why the rollback had to happen rather than a revision.


    You are also correct. Part of where I’m coming from is a romanticized idea I’ve long held that it sure would be nice if “the masses” understood design better, but this is probably not the most realistic of hopes, and I tend to forget in my zeal that it is our job as designers to create messages and products that people without design education can easily understand and/or appreciate.

    It is a good thing they listened to their customers; in the end, the most important thing for a company is to be responsive to the demands/needs/desires of the people buying their product and investing in their brand equity. It is just a shame that doing so had to come at the expense of scrapping the design altogether. It definitely would have been nice to see them return to the firm and give them a chance to bring them together, as you suggested, rather than jumping straight to throwing it away. I think that’s my biggest (and actual) beef with all of this; the knee-jerk reaction to scrap something that was still beautiful even if it was flawed, rather than trying to find a middle ground.

    Thanks to both of you so much for sharing your thoughts on this. You guys rock.

  7. The reason the new design was changed back to the previous is simple, the new design lost sales and market share for Tropicana since launch – Pretty good reason for Pepsi to have a change of heart wouldn’t you agree? The bottom line is consumers decide what works best for them and vote with their wallets. Clearly, there was much they liked about the previous design and did not in the new direction.

  8. Evan Rowe
    August 18th, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Art, I’m not totally convinced that the design itself lost a significant enough amount of sales or market share to warrant the rollback. (Of course, if you have actual figures to back up those claims, go for it.) The major complaint customers had was that the important information on the label was difficult to find and that it took longer to select the type of juice they wanted. Most people loyal to the Tropicana brand weren’t going to start buying Minute Maid just because of the design change, and certainly not over the short period of time that the updated packages were on store shelves.

    While there may indeed have been some impact on sales from the design change, the issue was ease of readability and usage. The point of the article I wrote (and the discussion in the comments) was to analyze the positive and negative points of both the original redesign and the rollback. Anybody can see that sales could well have been an impact, but it’s not as simple as that; there are reasons the design caused loss of sales (either small or large), and the goal was to discuss those rather than gloss over the issue and write it off as a quantitative problem.

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