Orange You Sorry About Tropicana?

imageTropicana’s recent reversal on their new, poorly received packaging for their orange juice products — on Monday they announced that they would be reverting to the old look for these products within a month — makes their rebranding effort an easy target for snarky blog posts. There are so many lessons to be learned — or at least ideas to be discussed arising from this debacle.

Particularly, I think, in the realm of whether the design and branding industry can really be trusted when a client endeavors to redesign a product. Did Tropicana really need that redesign? Was it really good strategy? In hindsight, the answer is almost certainly no, but hindsight of course is a too convenient perch. True, the botched execution ignited a minor consumer uproar, but it’s probably not fair to say that turn of events definitively proves that it was a bad idea in and of itself.

Still, let’s say that in the course of their research for the project, the responsible branding agency, Arnell, unearthed evidence that indicated that no, a redesign was not what Tropicana needed. Given that scenario, would Arnell have turned down the assignment, or advised Tropicana to undertake a much more modest redesign? Do they have that kind of integrity?

Just Say No?

It would be poor form for me to guess at Arnell’s motives one way or another, but I’m pretty certain that most branding agencies — and designers — would not have done the smart thing and passed on the opportunity. Every designer wants the chance to remake a major brand in a major way. Not only is it exciting work, it’s lucrative, too. In a sense, the whole design industry is geared up only to say yes to these kinds of offers. When you’re a hammer, every nail that’s put down in front of you is begging to be struck.

In the case of Arnell’s work, here’s one particularly notable example of that mentality in action. For a Brandweek article on the redesign, the agency is quoted as saying, “No one would ever write an article about Tropicana. Then you get rid of the orange and the straw [the iconic brand illustration featured on the old packaging] and the whole world pays attention.” Again, without wishing to impugn Anrell’s motivations, I can’t help but take away from that quote less of a desire to do right by the brand than a justification of change for its own sake.

Usability Is a Brand Attribute, Too

Whether the ideas and motivations behind this rebranding were pure or not, I’m still pretty shocked by how poorly it was executed. There was a little too much ‘brand strategy’ at work here and not enough simple usability. Whatever the perceived drawbacks of the old cartons, shown below, they were successful in at least one critical respect: they handily solve the problem of creating clear visual differentiations among over a dozen very similar products.


Think about that. Somewhere along the line, Tropicana decided it would be a good idea to sell twelve different variations on orange juice: orange juice with no pulp, orange juice with some pulp, orange juice with pulp and calcium, orange juice with pulp squeezed from oranges grown in South America purely for their fine pulp, etc. And yet, using strong blocks of visually distinct colors at the top of the boxes, they were able to clearly label and differentiate each product so that if you were a dedicated consumer of one particular flavor, you’d be able to identify it from halfway down a supermarket aisle.

On the other hand, the now-rejected redesign plays down that color scheme to a completely dismissible level. The cartons look virtually identical, with any noticeable difference looking more like the result of having had its colors faded by sunlight than the result of a designer’s intention.


Usability, folks. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.



  1. I was chatting with a friend earlier about whether this was a worst-case of “design for other designers” or just bad design. Examples like this case are part of the reason that the field is sometimes held in low regard, i.e. “making things look pretty.” But when the design fails to enhance usability and makes the product look worse… uh-oh.

  2. It’s impossible to discern whether or not the redesign was a good idea or not without a sense of what was happening to the brand/sales etc. The redesign, to me, seemed like an attempt to make Tropicana seem cleaner and more healthy. Who knows? Maybe they’re losing massive amounts of market share to brands that are seen as more natural and organic. Since they’re also natural and organic, it seems perfectly fair for them to try and amplify these cues in order to try and win back customers. Obviously the result was drab and generic but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a communication problem with their existing packaging. It just means that this wasn’t the solution.

  3. khoi, once again, you have hit the nail on the head here. i can’t even begin to tell you how many times i have complained over the past couple of months about the tropicana redesign. i only ever buy the calcium/vitamin D kind and i hated that i accidentally bought other varieties on several different occasions (and so did my husband, as he is less observant about such matters as i am.) if i had known that i COULD complain to the company about this, i would have. i’m glad to hear that they are reversing to their old design.

  4. Even beyond the obvious usability problems, the new design simply fails to make the product look appealing. The juice shown on the carton is pale and uninteresting. It’s one of the few cases I can recall where the depiction of a food or drink product on the packaging actually looks *less* appealing than the product itself. (Usually it’s comically on the other side of the spectrum: supernaturally attractive on the packaging, unappealing in actuality.)

  5. “Arnell said the team was instructed to use “Obama-esque design language that was clear, simple and profound.” This meant placing the words: “100% orange pure & natural” front and center.”

    Oh, is that what that meant? I love me some BarryO, but as a designer, if your boss ever tells you to “Obama Up” your design, tell him to Bush Up his strategery.

  6. Given that scenario, would Arnell have turned down the assignment, or advised Tropicana to undertake a much more modest redesign? Do they have that kind of integrity?

    I’ve no source for this at the moment, but this insight recalls an anecdote I remember from school of Paul Rand rejecting an opportunity to redesign General Electric’s logotype. This rejection alone – with no monetary exchange – prompted the company to keep their logotype unaltered, thereby sustaining its remembrance.

  7. Khoi,

    Excellent analysis, but I would LOVE to see more depth. Would you be willing to do a follow up piece that explores a little more completely?

    I think that the issue of “design for designers” , for instance, needs to be addressed. And I think some more examination of the issues design firms face when asked to do something (a re-brand for example) that is inadvisable – despite the financial (and portfolio / ego) rewards – really needs to be included. While you mention it, I think it needs to be explained and illustrated as it’s a MAJOR issue.

    Finally, some discussion of design NOT for design’s sake (the goal of product sales, the need for – and frequent cooption of – real research) would frame the discussion well. Probably including some data on Tropicana’s market share, sales, stock price, changes in mgmt team etc – to provide the needed context on the client side – would be ideal.

  8. If they were told to ‘obamaUp’ their design.

    then the result is an EPIC FAIL.
    Everything about the obama campaign was
    – bold yet understated,
    – simple yet complex
    – clean yet colourful
    – dynamic yet specific

    The whole ethos of the campaign was the fact that things were never a one way street but a meeting of people at cross-sections and bends in the roads.

    The design agencies own defence of their poor design also shows their complete inadequacy at interpretation.
    They really shouldn’t speak anymore.

  9. Overall I liked the redesign…

    I do agree with some of the things that went wrong with it, as far as usability issues, and even perhaps the point that maybe they DIDN’T need a redesign. Which obviously is true.

    I do have to say that I don’t really have room to talk because I am not the one who regularly buys orange juice. So redesigns like this will almost always be negatively received because it is basic human nature to HATE change.

    So for all the people who have become set in their daily grind of every trip to the grocery store it is already engrained in their system to buy the “red tropicana” then one day you all of a sudden show up and BAM you don’t see your carton of orange juice it throws you off. So then you have to spend time trying to find it. Not because it is poorly designed, but rather because it is so drastically different then what you have been grown used to.

    Like I said I rarely buy orange juice, so if I WAS to buy some, their would be little to no effect to my shopping experience because MY choice of orange juice’s package is not engrained into my head, so I would pay MORE attention to the package.

    So to me this is more the case of the routine buyers getting upset because someone threw a rock in the road of their daily grind.

    And here I thought the entire country wanted change?

  10. I recall a time I once went into a store to buy milk, and instead of the milk being in the familiar white jug with red label, they were in orange jugs with blue labels (which I hadn’t seen before). Honest to god, I walked up and down the refrigerator case for 3-4 minutes, actively swearing at the store for stocking so much “damn orange juice” instead of milk before I realized that the orange juice actually WAS milk.

  11. I didn’t see what the big uproar over the change was until you showed how much more difficult it was to differentiate between the products with the new packaging.

    Nice discussion.

  12. I never thought about the usability aspect! Great insight! I remember when I first saw the change in design, I definitely thought that the new packaging was a knock-off brand. I’m glad they’re reverting. The redesign really was unnecessary. Perhaps a marketing scheme to get attention?

  13. Usability is a problem, yes, but mainly they made it look so much less appealing. If I want orange juice, I’ll reach for the old carton. If I want pale sort-of-orangey-mostly-white juice that looks watered down, I’ll pick the new carton.

  14. You got it Khoi – it is all about usability – ended up with “Graprefrui Golden” Juice twice – it is a nasty suprise.

  15. This is either a great example of an agency inventing a non-existing need to design a solution for, or just an utter mutli-million dollar failure to address some real business issue.

    EIther way, I can’t help but feel there was also a serious oversight failure here, not unlike some of the things happening on Wall Street. I don’t get how something like this happens. Pepsi has made a series of bad design decisions lately.

  16. I agree that the old packaging was much more effective from a visibility and usability standpoint.

    The agency behind this, Arnell Group, also has a recent history of developing programs that have been criticized by the design community (new Pepsi logo & packaging).

    But I have to ask: what other design options were presented to the client and ultimately rejected? Is it possible that Arnell developed other, more effective designs, and Tropicana refused to listen to their recommendation?

    Someone once told me that “every client receives the creative that they deserve.”

    Could this be the case? Anyone?

  17. I totally agree with you “Ryan.” I think people are pointing the finger too quickly at the Design Firm when ALL of us know how many clients we run into that don’t want to take professional advice and you end up creating something that isn’t what you would recommend being the BEST solution.

    Especially in this world where EVERYONE thinks they are a designer…

  18. Holy crap: “It took 30 people five months to develop it.” Of course that pales in comparison to retooling the plant, marketing, all the negative press, etc.

    Reading the Brand Week article you linked to, it would also appear that they did absolutely no research involving consumers, looking at how people differentiated the dozen versions of OJ in the context of shopping.

    While there are clear design process and usability issues, I think there is a marketing mindset that seeks to churn products constantly, using the product as the marketing vehicle itself at the expense of any utility.

    And I never saw the glass (but totally got the orange/straw combo).

  19. Ryan and Shane: Fair enough. It’s really PepsiCo/Tropicana who paid the bills so it’s really their responsibility. And I agree that it’s right to give Arnell some benefit of the doubt regarding whatever else they may have proposed.

    But not being able to sell a client on a design is a poor excuse. That’s part of the designer’s job — and certainly no designer wins every battle. But the really good ones do win the important battles, or at least they make sure substandard solutions like this don’t make it through. In that light, it’s hard to excuse Arnell.

  20. GMTA. I wrote something very similar for It’s clear we were working on this idea at the same time… It’s interesting how branding becomes a usability issue when it enters the world of consumer products packaging, and the package is the “interface”. And it’s clear branding folks have no real sense of this.

  21. I have to agree with Shane here. I think he nailed it right on the head. Are there usability issues like Khoi is stating? Maybe to a certain degree, but to me each product is clearly differentiated in the new design. The problem, as Shane has explained, comes from the fact that the customer has just become lazy. The old design works better at a quick glance but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better overall design. The complaints also have a lot to do with the simple fact that when it comes to things like this, people don’t like change, even if it’s for the good.

    I personally like the new design and I’m a big time OJ drinker. The only flaw I see with it is the removal of the classic straw-in-the-orange image. And the new orange shaped cap is a nice touch.

  22. Arnell isn’t doing too well with this PepsiCo redesign stuff. Bad press everywhere on the Pepsi redesign as well. Next time they are instructed to “Obama-ify” something, they should suggest their client hire the Obama design team. It all looks very generic and I’m wondering when we will be out of this Futura / Twentieth Century / Avenir phase.

  23. Personally as a consumer of tropicana and as a designer, I noticed the new design when at the store, and my first thought was it is a lot cleaner. It took me about 5 seconds to find my usual brand (low Pulp) and went on with my day. After seeing the two different designs side by side i feel that the new design isn’t “bad” just hasn’t grown it’s new brand identity. Meaning people aren’t use to it yet. From a design point i would say it does feel cleaner, healthier and a little more organic it just needs a few tweaks. From a marketing stand point competing with organic brands it might be a smarter move. I do think they lost a lot of brand identity by taking off the orange with the straw though… I like the new logo and not using sooo much of the different colors… although that is killing it at the shelves. KEEP IT!! people will buy it… plus is the best OJ anyways..!

  24. Not to bring up an old debate from our conversation at dinner in Richmond, but this simplifying the packaging to the point of no distinction reminds me of the new Pepsi logo and packaging Ё

    Let’s see, Arnell’s group was responsible for that as well.

  25. Khoi, spot on as far as the analysis of the design and the motives of the designer. But my major concern with abandoning the redesign was that they did it after only one month and that there have been articles how the social media world had a significant influence on the change of heart.

    My guess is through the collective wisdom of Tropicana’s executives and marketing, PR and brand folks they were convinced this final product was right. How could all those people have been wrong? I’m interested to know their motivation to see if it lined up with what Arnell delivered. And if not, why not stop it before launch?

    Again, I happen to like the old brand better myself, but you and I have been through redesigns before. I find in the first few weeks after launch, only the haters come out and say something. And they’ll say it wherever they can to whomever will listen. The people who like it are not inclined to take time out of their days to call in and say nice work. And the haters in more cases than not just hate the fact there was change.

    What scares me is that I don’t think they gave the design enough of a chance. Would the public have adjusted to it? Scared of the precedent this may set. You hire a talented designer, explain why you want to redesign, set goals, develop scope, make sure project in line with those goals, revise, revise some more, launch. Then undo it all when some of the public (who naturally hate any change) order you to change it back because they liked the old one better.

    I would have expected a company like Tropicana to be more responsible during the redesign process and after it.

    But I do love that orange with a straw through it!

  26. Er.

    “The old design works better at a quick glance but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better overall design.”

    I think that says a lot about what went wrong here.

    This is design for a SUPERMARKET. People are not going there to idle away time, or because they enjoy walking along aisles analyzing package design. They are going there to buy food, and usually they’re taking time out from something they’d rather be doing; they want to get in, get what they want, and get out. “a quick glance” is all they’re going to want to give something. Design that ignores this is just as stupid as designing a billboard for an interstate highway that requires concentration and a fair amount of time to read.

  27. I went grocery shopping last night and bought some for myself. I had no problems finding the kind I was looking for. I asked my wife what she thought, and it dawned on me. My wife has a totally different way of shopping than I do. She only looks at price.

    I told her I wanted some orange juice and I grabbed the Tropicana, and she immediately grabbed the cheapest orange juice she saw.

    We went home with the Tropicana.

  28. I am amazed that this many people spent so much time analyzing the redesign (myself included). Clearly, the execution was poor at best. Still, large companies launch sub par redesigns all the time, so why such an uproar?

    Khoi, you hit the issue right on the head: the function of color in packaging is a key element of differentiation among similar product.

    However, I don’t think the redesign raises the question of design ethics. Only in retrospect do we question the ethics of a botched attempt.

    In my opinion, a redesign was clearly needed. I am sure that Tropicana saw their customers moving organic, and it is a basic business need to recapture your customer through design. If it was a fantastic redesign, we’d be congratulating the team on a job well done and ethics would not be in question.

    Rather than revert to the old packaging, it would have been nice to see the client, Tropicana, believe in the power of good design. Hand the project to another agency, one who has proven they understand how to design packaging. Change can be good and drive business results when well-executed.

  29. I haven’t read every comment above, so write at the peril of being repetitive, but I think I’m one of the few out there who (really) liked the redesign. First, I rarely buy Tropicana products – basically only when ailing and needing a shot of Vitamin C. But inevitably when I do, I’m left standing in front of the case mesmerized by the choices and unable to see through the clutter on the label to find the variant I want. What Pic #2 above fails to show is how EASY it is to see which variant is which in the new product. Cluter on label gone, variant name pops clearly on the color-coded top right corner of the carton’s sealed lip. Also – love the pour spot. And, as someone who pays attention to how much my food and drink is processed, a photo of an orange with a straw in it coupled with the words “No Pulp” and “Natural” sends all of my “This Manufacturer thinks I’m an Idiot” synapses flying. It can’t be completely “natural” (or at least, unprocessed), fresh and have no pulp. So why are you trying to convince me it is?? The new packaging does away with that pretense, to my relief. We’ll never know how the $35mm redesign would have performed if Pepsi hadn’t pulled it. So I’ll be able to stick with my theory that pulling it – and not the redesign itself – was a costly mistake that they made.

  30. Don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve heard the new packaging was intended to make the product look like a generic store brand. Quite frankly, it does. The Tropicana logo takes a backseat to the product name, and someone in a hurry may not even realize what brand they’re buying until they’re at the register. Considering we’re in a recession, this seems like a smart move – but the jury’s out on whether or not it was done intentionally.

  31. As a consumer, I was totally caught off guard by the change and DEFINITELY THOUGHT it was STORE BRAND. I was turned off immediately (I like to pay top $$$ for my O.J.) and totally confused.

    Though I was turned off, I purchased anyway based on what I *thought* I remembered and associated with their previous design. …funny too, I didn’t like the taste.

    Just tonight I bought another one to see if I really do like the taste. If so, I’ll get over the unhelpful and unappetizing packaging.

  32. Arnell did the Pepsi redesign, too? I was just griping about their new look the other day. It’s not so much the new logo as it is the typography on the cans that I’m not feeling. I felt the same way when I saw Print magazine’s new logo a few years back.

  33. Arnell is a pre-bust thinking firm, they don’t seem to get that there is a major shift going on in consumer’s minds. Value matters again, surface doesn’t. Consumers want a sense of security to counter their fear of their world collapsing. I personally had a physical reaction when I saw the new package, I thought it had to be a joke. There is no use commenting on the re-design since other have done such a commendable job at it. Suffice it to say it’s refreshing to see that Pepsi got it and fast. As for Arnell, they think they can apply their “Samsung” attitude towards everything, with no research and no respect for the consumer. Guess we’ll see how long they last in the new economic climate. Maybe they shouldn’t have moved into those flashy new offices.

  34. Couldn’t the client’s money have been put to better use? Instead of new graphics could the package have been made of more easily recyclable material? Just wondering. I really like the new look but obviously the tropicana consumer has a different aesthetic.

  35. Why the powers-that-be thought Tropicana needed a make-over I do not understand. The original design is totally iconic. Why mess with perfection?
    Now, I like the new Diet Pepsi design. But only because it reminds me of the ’70’s — when I was the only kid that liked Pepsi over Coke.
    Again, iconic.
    I’m a dinosaurial throw-back (that likes to make up new words) no apologies.

  36. I had glossed over a couple articles about this, but when I saw the Tropicana redesign actually on the grocery store shelves, I cursed out loud. There was nothing quite like seeing things “live” to really demonstrate how bland and generic the new design really was.

    I suspect that’s the biggest failure of this redesign, that no one took actual cartons to actual shelves with other actual products around them. Couldn’t see the forest for the grove.

  37. Humm, I realized I’m coming waaay late to this discussion, but being a designer who has worked on redesign projects, I couldn’t resist. While I think the comments are all very valid, the issue is less about “usability” (a relatively new term, i.e 15 or so years) and more about simple consumer packaging research; something that has always been (or at least it should have) part of the design process. No mystery here, without such information, designers have nothing to work with but subjective information. Not knowing the reasons for such change, I do agree that part our role and responsibility as designers is to say no when ask to design for design sake.

  38. As both a designer and a consumer, my interest is first in the quality of the contents. Seeing the pale new design undermined my confidence that I was getting the same good “not from concentrate” natural juice I always bought with total brand loyalty. I could only hope the quality in the new carton was unchanged. I spent extra time scrutinizing the new cartons and text, wasn’t even sure it was Tropicana because the name running up the side was not as prominent as the bold arc in the old. The big “100%” now dominating the front panel may be their important message, but then what’s that Vitamin C additive make – 102%? I can accept a company wanting a fresh look, but they should reassure us somehow that it is the same product. Maybe a miniature of the old carton as a thumbnail inset to connect the two, or a line saying “New look, same great quality”. I want to buy the PRODUCT, not the packaging. I’ll accept the new look, or welcome back the old, as long as the juice is still the best.

  39. They also tried a flip-top plastic bottle that was a DISASTER.

    > I gave the TROPICANA orange juice bottle a good shake
    > and the damn lid flew off and it sprayed OJ all over the
    > kitchen floor, the stove, my sandals, my toes!

    That was last September, and wow, I was annoyed.

    The branding problem, yeah, but flip tops do physical damage

  40. I saw the new design while shopping and quickly found the PULPIEST version by looking at the top of the container – it’s clearly printed there. It was like browsing for CDs in a bin. Fun.

    The comps I saw in the news had the Twist + Pour opener designed like an orange with a few leaves printed on the carton – it was a clever tromple l’oeil effect and made me smile. This was missing in the packaging I found at the store. That made me sad.

    I liked the design. It was Swiss, griddy and clean.

    Here’s the real question – who drinks orange juice anymore? I was buying it as a mixer for drinks. It’s got way too many calories to have everyday.

  41. I am so glad that it wasn’t just me!

    My first experience with this was from a purely marketing standpoint… wow, I really hate the redesign. It looks like the generic brand at Food Emporium.

    But then it got personal, when last week I took a swig of my $4.00/half gallon cartoon and — patooey — I had inadvertently purchased GRAPEFRUIT JUICE instead of OJ. That really got me mad.

    Excellent analysis.

  42. Well,

    One simple way to have avoided the hassle here would have been to do Multi-variate testing of the current designs vs. a number of new designs (either for specific product lines or the whole range).

    Feedback would be a pretty primary metric (sales) but additional info could have been gained with a competition/feedback promotion ‘What do you think about our new design? Vote online at xxxx’. You’d also have any effects where limited lines were trialled to see how they compared against old designs when mixed.

    Through careful experimentation, they may have found interesting results like:

    (a) Sales patterns of different products were radically different (may indicate product confusion). Based on which lines a retailer carried, these differences could have been explored.

    (b) If sales generally fell, was some contribution being made due to product confusion. Usability testing could have ironed this one out.

    (c) If more than one design was tested, what designs worked well at the various retailers and locations.

    If they had done some testing to see how sales were affected and encouraged consumer feedback, the results would have been very different. Tropicana make the same mistake here as companies redesigning their websites – if you are ‘guessing’ about what will work, it will be costly, time consuming and likely to fail.

  43. This design is hard to identify with the other variations of different processed orange juice. honestly it seems to be the same type of design just a picture of oj in a glass. Sometimes i wonder about designers and what their concept of simple design is. If I were to pick up this product over the counter i would probably get the wrong juice.

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