Good Design vs. Good Branding: Tropicana Case Study

February 25, 2009 | Branding and Rebranding, Design Basics

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Old Design
Tropicana's Old Design
Tropicana's New Design
Tropicana's New Design

You’ve probably heard by now that Tropicana redesigned their orange juice cartons, but then received so much negative feedback they’ve decided to revert to their old design. This is an example of how design in a vacuum can lead to terrible branding decisions.

The design changes

For years, Tropicana used their image of the straw in the orange to suggest a fresh-from-the-orchard taste. That image was backed up by a package design that had a sense of old-time farm stand signage while still being clean and modern looking.

On the other hand, their new design shows orange juice poured into a wine glass sort of goblet. The placement of the glass is off-center in a way that abstracts the image. The typography changed from featuring the brand name top & center, to rotating it 90-degrees. The remaining type is sans serif and set in a modern and minimalist way.

Personally I favor the old version because the colors are richer, the name is easier to read, and the orange has mouth-watering appeal. However, in all fairness there are strong features to the new design as well. The repetitive element of the juice glass forms an interesting pattern on the grocery shelf. In the food world where many of the top brands are over-flowing with too much detail, shading, 3D-effects, gradations, bursts of color, etc., the new design (I think) was trying to stand out from the visual clutter.

Design is not branding

If you are able to look at the two cartons, and be critical of just the graphic design, neither is horrible. Both are in fact, quite well done. But branding is not about just elegant, unique, balanced layouts. Branding is looking at how that design fits into your own positioning and the landscape of competing products or services. Unfortunately, with this new design, Tropicana violated 2 important rules of branding. First they have lost their niche and secondly they are now confused with other, lesser brands.

Let’s take the first idea; their niche. Tropicana’s identity was: We’re so tasty & fresh it’s like sticking a straw right into an orange. The new packaging does not say that at all.

Probably more important in Tropicana’s case was the second rule. They’ve lost their recognition. And worse than that, they look like a generic brand. In the case of orange juice packaging the level of minimalism that was brought to this package design is very similar to the looks of generic or store brand products.

With their new design, loyal customers can’t find their product and other consumers would think they are choosing a cheap, off brand.

The bottom line is that when you are developing your own identity and branding materials you need to look beyond the design itself and see how the design builds and enhances your positioning, and how it fits into the competitive landscape.

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