Archive for March, 2009


Every year there is a conference on global branding at Columbia University’s B-school, led by the endlessly energetic and enjoyable Bernd Schmitt.  The conference was given the name BRITE which stands for Branding, Innovation, Technology.  This year’s conference begins on Wednesday, 3/4.  The posts for the next couple of days will be related to the conference.

Last year Professor Schmitt made the emphatic point that technology innovations have made brand positioning obsolete.  It was a non-controversial idea to the audience.  Many had come to that conclusion on their own.  

Hanging over the conference was the unspoken reality that none of the presenters had discussed what goes into a breakthrough methodology to replace brand positioning.

Tropicana vs. New Coke

A lot of reports have said that the Tropicana mis-fire was PepsiCo’s version of New Coke.  Is this the right analogy?

Let’s look at what happened with New Coke.  The product that had been loved by hundreds of millions was reformulated, with a very public announcement that this was replacing the existing product.  The company was shocked by the outpouring of outrage!

In their focus groups and other testing the New Coke formulation was preferred to the existing Coke.  However they never mentioned that the New Coke was replacing the existing Coke. By testing with no context they got one answer.  If they had tested within a context they would have gotten a different answer.  (Which reminds me of  a book by George W.S. Trow “Within the Context of No Context”)

Now let’s look at Tropicana.  They removed their strong metaphor from the packaging — the iconic orange with a straw — and replaced it with a lovely looking but weak metaphor of orange juice in a glass.  They also punched up “100% Orange” by placing it in the middle of the glass and in large type.  The orange with the straw gets across the idea much more effectively — proof once again that one picture is worth 100% of words.

Tropicana also did research on the new packaging.  They did not pick up the mistake in their research for any number of reasons.  

Less than two months after introducing the packaging Tropicana had to backtrack.

So is this Pepsico’s “New Coke Moment”?

No.  Not even close.  

What PepsiCo did in the Tropicana situation was not so different from what they did with the redesign of Pepsi.  A misfire but not a backfire.

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