The packaging is the signature of a product. Packaging matters because, at times, before a customer sees your product functioning, he sees how you’ve packaged it. Countless studies have proven that packaging drives purchase intent, product satisfaction and repeat purchases. As a market research firm, we deal with many product launches and most of them are likely to fail at the initial stage. The only reason is that the owners haven’t done product research but, they anecdotally know that it works and is safe.
According to a leading market research firm, about 75% of consumer-packaged goods and retail products fail to earn even $7.5 million during their first year. This is in part because of the intransigence of consumer shopping habits and lack of market research. At The Owl Strategy we like to feature branding success stories through impeccable market research studies, however sometimes analyzing branding failures is even more interesting, as it allows us to learn from past mistakes. Let’s look at an example of packaging that had gone wrong in recent years.
The most famous example of a packaging redesign meltdown is the infamous rollout of a new, decidedly more modern look from Tropicana in 2008. However, this new packaging design was rejected and criticized by the majority of Tropicana’s consumers. The results of this rebranding were disastrous, which was reflected in the sales. Tropicana saw a 20% decrease in sales, with many customers voicing their dissatisfaction with the bad packaging. The launch of the new packaging was indeed such a failure that Tropicana had to drop it to come back to the original version of the packaging. On February 23rd, 2009, Tropicana announced that it would return to its original packaging design, and within a few months, the old packaging was back for good on all supermarket shelves.
The role of packaging in purchasing decisions processes
Perhaps the problem goes beyond this emotional bond consumers had with the old packaging.
It is very important to consider the role of packaging design in branding and its link with merchandising. Packaging redesigns often come with a small decrease in sales, but this tends to be temporary and has never been as severe as the 20% decrease experienced by Tropicana.
In this case, many consumers didn’t recognize the product on supermarket shelves. Some loyal consumers saw the “100% Orange Juice” and asked themselves if the product was still the same as the Tropical Pure Premium they always trusted. Then appeared a series of confusions in consumers’ minds who lost their main reference elements to recognize the product. These include:
- The orange with the straw
- The original logo
- The focus on “100% Orange” instead of “Pure Premium”.
What to learn from this case study:
Branding is a complex subject and it is often difficult to predict the market’s reaction to a strategy change.
However, both from an individual and company-standpoint, we can learn several lessons from Tropicana’s strategic mistake:
1. Consumers feel an emotional bond with the appearance of the product and brand they love.
Of course, this only applies to successful brands such as Tropicana. If your brand and product are not doing well, a total rebrand can be a good solution to save the product on the market. In fact, we’ve seen many cases (Herbal Essences comes to mind) in which significant packaging changes have driven sales.
Consumers have an emotional connection with brands they purchase and can feel betrayed and disappointed if they suddenly can no longer identify with new brand elements of the packaging design. It is important to always consider this before making changes to packaging designs.
2. Branding elements on packaging cannot all be changed at once
Tropicana, while trying to modernize the brand, didn’t respect one of the most important branding rules any company should consider: the product identification and recognition by the consumer.
- Tropicana changed too many brand elements that confused the customers on the moment they wanted to purchase orange juice: new logo
- new typography
- new slogan
- new image
- new lid
If you want to redesign your product’s packaging, make sure you do not change everything at once. The changes need to be done progressively to ensure the consumer will still recognize the brand.
3. Packaging is the silent salesman
Packaging is the last communication element brands have with consumers on the purchasing decision process. Its design and content are essential to the brand because it will influence the consumer’s decision at the last minute. Tropicana’s consumers didn’t recognize or like the new product design and therefore decided not to purchase it.
4. Advertising and Packaging Design have different communication rules
Advertising and packaging design are very different communication tools.
- Through advertising, companies have more time and support to communicate emotions and new values. The mission of advertising is to inform and communicate sensations that will last in the long-term. It is more flexible communication support over time.
- Through packaging design, companies need to communicate in a more direct, clear and identifiable manner, as the consumer is about to make its final purchase decision.
Of course, packaging and advertising strategies should always be in line, as with any marketing activity in general. However, there are some communication codes for each domain that need to be respected. In the case of Tropicana, the packaging codes weren’t, and this caused the failure of the new design.
Arguably the most well-known board game of all time and certainly a uniquely American diversion, Hasbro’s Monopoly brand is so popular that nearly every American can name his or her signature “piece.” But whether you’re a Scottie Dog kinda guy or a Top Hat gal, you might have walked right past the nearly unrecognizable package that hit shelves in 2008. Catering to an urban, young adult demographic and aimed at rebranding Monopoly as a pastime best enjoyed among yuppie friends in condos with lovingly-installed faux vintage details, this look didn’t garner a monopoly of market shares and is rarely spotted anymore.
Look, we understand the desire brands have to reinvent their images in order to reposition themselves in crowded markets and reach new consumer demographics. But sometimes, these risks serve to alienate loyal consumers or confuse them so much they overlook the unfamiliar product packaging on retailers’ shelves. When considering a packaging redesign, brands should use smart market research and skilled packaging designers to get the best bang for their branding bucks. With great risk can come great reward, but brands have to walk a fine line between reinvention and alienation of loyal consumers.