Update 5/20/2009: Recent sales reports indicate Tropicana sales declined 20% during the Jan./Feb. timeframe that correlated with the packaging change. This indicates the packaging problem was more severe than consumers simply not liking the design, it actively hurt the ability of individuals to figure out where and what Tropicana was. It is still surprising to me that a marketing powerhouse like this could have been taken in by the branding gobbley-gook that must have been put forward to justify the redesign. It also relates to this post in that without a sales decline of this magnitude I doubt the packaging would have been rethought this quickly – more likely folks would have tried to power through. The Ad Age link (subscibers only, but the only place I could find the info at the moment.)
Tropicana recently did a packaging 180 due to customer demand (or, could it be lack of demand?). Sean Silverstone at bnet.com says that it was a very small number of Tropicana users who complained about the new packaging. Certainly nowhere near the outcry that occurred during the ‘new Coke’ debacle that became brilliance two decades ago.
Tropicana was trying to position themselves with a fresher, new look to re-energize the brand.
Did a small number of consumers throw the master plan off track? Should you let a few bloggers re-direct your plans?
First – Spin control. We’ll have to wait a while for the truth, but I highly doubt Tropicana changed direction due to a few blogs, or even a large number of blogs. They changed direction for the same reason Coke and any number of organizations do. The mistake showed up in their sales figures in a way that indicated no amount of marketing and advertising was going to overcome the problem.
Second – This was a packaging snafu for Pete’s sake. Tropicana, for whatever reason, chose to invest in a package design that was less than inspiring by the time it got to retail. They created severe confusion in the marketplace. (I thought they had been replaced by a generic brand at our supermarket).
Of course you need to pay attention to your loyal customers. Of course you should work on taking them along with you on any brand innovations. Of course they may demand incrementalism vs radical redesign. But as a product manager you have to move your brand forward, even when your existing customers don’t want to see change at all. It’s a balancing act and your success is measured in sales results not good press, or blogs.
So, back to the original question. Did hyper loyal customers force Tropicana to backtrack on a decision that would have improved the brands prospects? Nope. Tropicana was simply reminded that it is easy to get lost in a busy retail store and customers don’t like un-necessary barriers thrown in their way when making decisions. We’re looking at the best face one can put on a classic marketing error – reinventing yourself in a way that no one can find you.