Posts Tagged 'Pepsi redesign'

Metaphors mean business – or – If “G” is for Gatorade, then is “F” for financials?


The rebrand of Gatorade was launched at the beginning of this year and now the results are in.  Verdict?  Not good.  In Thursday’s WSJ it was reported that a large drop in sales of Gatorade is behind Pepsico’s 6% drop in volume during the second quarter.  

This is the 3rd time that an Arnell Group’s redesign has proven very costly to Pepsico.  It’s a classic case of branding getting in the way of business.  In fairness the first case, the redesign of the Pepsi logo, it was more of a public relations issue than a design question.  People said that it was too similar to the Obama campaign logo and the justifications provided by Arnell did not successfully address the underlying issue.  The cost was to the brand’s reputation. Over time the Obama similarity questions will fade away (at least outside of the branding community) and I believe that the Pepsi Smile will ultimately become a successful identity.  That is because a strong new metaphor — the smile — has been woven into the Pepsi narrative.  Drink a Pepsi and smile!

The second was the redesign of the Tropicana brand.  In that case a strong metaphor, the straw in the orange, was replaced by a beautifully shot glass of orange juice.  It was beautiful and well executed but lacking in meaning.  It was an error that should have been picked up in well-designed market research that probes into metaphors.  A typical focus group could easily miss the deeper issue.  In this case the cost was both to the brand’s reputation and an actual monetary loss for returning to the old, stronger, metaphors on packaging.  All of the new work was a needless expense.

What is interesting about the third case?  It is the one most clearly identified as a substantial financial cost to the brand and company.  That was the underlying story in the recent earnings report. 

So what went wrong?

The answer is simple.  The redesign of Gatorade replaced a strong metaphor for a weak metaphor.  

Here is the previous Gatorade design.  The central metaphor is the lightening bolt.  Heavy handed?  Yes but you cannot miss it.   It is Zeus’s lightening bolt, the symbol of the powerful gods. Rich stuff for co-creating meaning.  The old campaigns showed the old metaphors clearly — the victorious warriors, the gods of sport, celebrating with Gatorate.  

If you believe that ancient mythology is long forgotten and therefore that bolt is unknown, consider that Disney’s movie Hercules was released in 1997 and retold that story again for a new generation.  And the popular Percy Jackson series started with The Lightening Thief — which is about to be released as a major motion picture.


And here is the redesign.  The dominant metaphor here is “G”.  The name has been de-emphasize to the point of being nearly invisible.  And the lightening bolt has been demoted to a secondary graphic element.  

Gatorade redesign on packaging

What does “G” mean?  That was the question raised by the new advertising.  Gifted, glorious, golden and the emblem of a warrior are some of the answers provided in the advertising campaign.  Here’s John Swansburg’s take on the campaign in Slate.    In sum, the metaphor of quenching the thirst of warriors has been replaced by people in street clothes talking about “G” as the symbol of the warrior and not the lightening bolt.  

For the average person “G” has little meaning.  What do you co-create with G? Certainly it is not associated with winning teams and sweating athletes.  What might seem a subtle shift in emphasis to update the brand was really a major shift in the metaphor.  And that has proven costly.

In sum, the redesign of Pepsi, adding the smile metaphor, will probably be successful over time.  It was a pr fumble, nothing more.  The redesign of Tropicana and Gatorade show what happens with the opposite situation, the replacement of a strong metaphor with a much weaker one.  The cost has been real, not just in image.  Every business person and every creative person should memorize this line from the poet Robert Frost

Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.

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.

Where did Tropicana go wrong?

Tropicana has done an about face on their new packaging.  Just a month ago Tropicana introduced new packaging that removes their orange with a straw and replaces it with a glass of orange juice.  Now they are bringing back the orange and straw.

Is the glass half empty or half fully?

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Back to the Future?

Back to the Future?











Where did Tropicana go wrong?

According to Stuart Elliott in the Times

In an interview last month to discuss the new packaging, he [Mr. Campbell, president of Tropicana] said, “The straw and orange have been there for a long time, but people have not necessarily had a huge connection to them.”

Now it seems that people do have a huge connection to them.  As the president said, “That wasn’t something that came out in the research.”

So the glass is out and the orange and straw are back.  And the question comes up, what went wrong with the research?  Also, where did Peter Arnell, the designer, go wrong?

Many people have noted that the new packaging is “generic”.  But that doesn’t go to the heart of the problem.  It is an observation not an insight.  The problem goes much deeper.

First, the research.  I don’t know what research method that Tropicana (part of PepsiCo) used, so I will not speculate on that.  If they had used a method such as ZMET they would have learned about the power of their existing metaphor of the orange and straw.  In this case, I would have suggested a series of one-on-one interviews to uncover the metaphors, stories and associations people have with orange juice in general and Tropicana in particular.  Through constructions — using images, textures, materials — it would have been possible to see the depth and richness of the current metaphor.  It is this depth and robustness of response that is more important than someone saying, “Oh, I like the look of this one better than that one.”  

What kind of meaning would you co-create with a glass of orange juice?  How does that differ in quality from the meaning you co-create with a straw sticking out of an orange?

Second, the design.  Peter Arnell is a brilliant designer.  In this situation he did not recognize that he was substituting an inferior metaphor for a very rich and compelling one.  He said, “I’m incredibly surprised by the reaction.”  He should not have been surprised at all.  He should have recognized the possibility of this happening.  He should have replaced the orange and straw with a visual metaphor that was stronger, not weaker.

In essence he was solving a problem that did not exist.  There are endless ways to update the orange and straw.  Removing it removes almost everything from the visual side of Tropicana’s narrative.  Now the only visual element carrying the narrative is a small leaf on the “i” in the name.

Arnell has recently lost a lot of face.  The new Pepsi logo has come in for a lot of criticism for being a rip-off of Obama’s campaign logo.  I personally don’t think that was intended but the advertising and the PR surrounding the new Pepsi logo were not effective at addressing that question.  

Now comes the Tropicana debacle.  And this is truly a mistake by Peter Arnell. 

So where did Tropicana really go wrong?  I would say by not having the right research in place.  And by allowing the brand guru Peter Arnell to remove their strong metaphor.

The new new Pepsi logo?

There are some wonderful books that take a “what if” look at the world.  You know the kind of book, it imagines what if this happened instead of that?How would it change everything that came afterwards?  A good example is Philip Roth’s recent novel “The Plot Against American” in which he imagines that Charles Lindberg became President when WWII broke out.

In that spirit, I would like to share this story.

In the past few months the redesign of the Pepsi logo has been omnipresent.   At the same time there have been many  news stories in which people said that the new Pepsi logo is a rip-off of Obama’s logo.  Pepsi has adamantly denied it.  Peter Arnell, who’s company did the redesign, has adamantly denied it.

In musing on one of these articles, Michael Thibodeau — co-founder of Verse Group — imagined a “what if” scenario.  What if McCain won the Presidency?  What would the redesign of the Pepsi logo look in that alternative universe?  AdAge thought it was alternative enough to post it on their website.  Or you can just click on the picture below to make it larger .

Pepsi in a McCain world

Pepsi in a McCain world

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