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… ┬áThis 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. ┬áThis 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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