The Power Of Familiar

The folks that bring us Pepsi, Tropicana and Gatorade have done the product management world a favor by performing a very large logo experiment in public.

  • Tropicana went for a radical new package design dropping their familiar ‘straw in an orange’ image for what I consider a rather generic box.
  • Gatorade traded the logo and their name for a large letter G and reduced lightning bolt.
  • Pepsi traded their single circle for a series of happy faces and fat birds and stylized type.

I’ve reported disasterous Tropicana numbers earlier (down 20%) and that they have abandoned the logo change.

Evidently the Gatorade numbers are just as terrible down more than 13% in the first quarter (with Powerade picking up 6 points of marketshare). My guess is they won’t backtrack here. (Two admissions of extreme error in a six month period. Nope.) (UPDATE BELOW)

I haven’t seen anything about Pepsi results, but for the most part you could still tell a Pepsi bottle was a Pepsi bottle so there isn’t much to expect. I doubt consumers pay much attention to Fat Pepsi logo vs Thin Pepsi logo, but if it makes corporate happy…  This is a different strategy from the cloak of invisibility delivered by the Tropicana and Gatorade redesigns.

Here are a few things I am assuming about the decision to bring such radical change to Tropicana and Gatorade.

  • Each brand is facing serious challenges to their dominance and therefore alarm bells were ringing.
  • Folks within each organization were tired of the old ‘been there for years’ logos.
  • They hired a ‘branding’ agency. (Heavy sigh. I’ll save the rant for later.)

Humans get tired of things. I get it.

Change is good. Fabulous.

Old packaging design gets dated. You might become a nostalgia brand, or heaven forbid, a drink for old people.

Was there panic? I don’t know. Certainly somebody, somewhere wanted to put their imprint on some classic American brands.

Three lessons from this very public experiment.

  • First – While logo design is critical, most of a logo’s (and package’s) power comes from FAMILIARITY. Both Gatorade and Tropicana became invisible overnight. Customers had to look for them and therefore had an extra second to make a different choice.
  • Second – Changes to familiar brands need to be made with care. Huge advertising budgets don’t necessarily equate to awareness at the shelf. (Anybody remember when Arco changed to Amoco, or visa versa? The cardboard cutout of the gas pump attendent changing the sign was up for several months in the midwest.)
  • Third – Watch out for what research is really telling you.  This was too big of a change to not been researched the heck out of. Most of the time failure here revolves around experiment design (examine logos in a focus group room rather than on the shelf of a real store) or the results are ignored cause ‘change is good.’

The landscape is littered with name, logo and packaging changes gone bad, so you would really think folks would know better by now.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION 07/28/09: The misfire becomes more obvious when I compare apples to apples. The 13% decline was in sales. Gatorade lost about 6 percent in market share which was almost entirely picked up by Powerade. This makes the following quote from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi all that more amazing (July 23 Wall Street Journal Subscription probably needed) “Clearly some of those [former] users switched to cheaper alternatives” and in some cases soft drinks, she said in an earnings conference call. “They didn’t have a right to exist in the Gatorade world,” they just liked the taste.

I can’t even begin to address how wrong that sounds.

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11 Responses to The Power Of Familiar

  1. Bill Welter says:

    Fred,
    Facinating post — and I want more. So, how about a post (at your leisure) about successful logo changes? As a “non-marketing” guy I’ve been fascinated by the mystique of logos and why some work, and why people would change their logo. Got more stories? I’m all ears (or eyes in this case.)
    Bill

  2. kay plantes says:

    In today’s markets, change for the sake of change is a non-starter. There was no enhanced consumer value in the changes outlined above. Let’s take Tropicana. Anyone who recycles paper knows it’s a bummer to have to get the plastic cap off the box to recycle the cap and box. Had Tropicana added value to the package change AND tested the new look and package pour via on-shelf and in-home tests (each more affordable than the mistake Tropicana made), they might have ended up ahead. Image, a branded good change for the better. You see fewer and fewer of them these days. But perhaps I am retro. Kay
    .-= kay plantes´s last blog ..Does Business Model Strategy Matter in an Age of Uncertainty? =-.

    • The thing that often attracts companies to cosmetic changes is that they are both easy to implement and easy to convince yourself that the new lines and colors rival DaVinci in importance and inspiration. A real focus on the customer can be a source of innovation and remind a brand manager to make the kind of improvements you mention, stuff that really means something. However, given the CEO’s comment (in my update above) you get the feeling that customers are no longer part of the equation.

  3. Brad Shorr says:

    The silver lining in all this might be that Tropicana was reminded of how devoted their customers are. I would propose that people are more emotionally tied to the orange juice they put in their bodies than the gasoline they put in their cars. Maybe this explains why oil company brands come and go with little fanfare, but when Heinz starts making upside down ketchup bottles all hell breaks loose. Food and drink is by definition more personal, and the food on our tables and in our pantries and refrigerators brings back memories of family and friends. I doubt if these subtle and submerged feelings manifest themselves in focus groups and marketing surveys.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Add Multimedia to Your Blog Quick and Easy with Apture =-.

    • Hi Brad, The weaknesses of research show up in spades when you start monkeying with critical brand elements. The artificial environment gets folks thinking in ways that just don’t match the subconscious and conscious lines of thought at retail. There are ways to protect yourself from crazy mistakes using research, but you really have to want to be protected.

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    In an overloaded world, distinctions and identifiers are pretty key.

    I think one of the key market plays is you keep what you’ve got, but then add a new brand for your new niche, rather than break the brand you’ve got. I think the general rule is one brand, one category … new category, new brand. So maybe keep Pepsi classic, but add Pepsi 2.0, new logo and all? (keep the old niche, and add the new)

    I’m with you, there’s a lot to be said for familiarity. Nothing is worse than grabbing something on the go, then having to figure out if it’s the same thing it used to be. A different wrapper, implies something’s different.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..10-10-10 Decision Making =-.

  5. Terry Heath says:

    This post caught my interest, and I felt I learned something about brands. At first I thought it was going to be one of those interesting bits of trivia we pick up in moments of curiosity. I didn’t see it changing what I reach for in the store cooler, and I remembered noticing a new look to the Gatorade labels but felt pretty neutral about the whole thing.

    BUT . . . !

    “They didn’t have a right to exist in the Gatorade world.” Are you kidding me, Nooyi? What kind of elitist crap is that? If that’s the corporate culture behind your brand then screw you, Gatorade. I’ll buy my high-fructose-corn-syrup injected Kool-Aid from someone else.
    .-= Terry Heath´s last blog ..Could Your Creative Work Be The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread? =-.

  6. So many companies changing Brand logo’s, including Jack In The Box and others, I know when I go to Walmart and look for Great Value products, they are even different packaging now and its annoying to try to find a product when you expect the consistent look over the years.

    I do think being fresh and original can be useful, but careful consideration and market research into comparison is needed to determine if change will be for the better.
    .-= Dragon Blogger´s last blog ..Find Online Writing Jobs =-.