February 26th, 2009

Considering rebranding? Don't shut consumers out of the process

by sage island

This week, Tropicana made waves with the swift failure of a massive rebranding effort.

PepsiCo, owners the well established Tropicana brand, sought to capitalize on the economic downturn through marketing. They hired New York ad agency Arnell to implement a complete redesign of the Tropicana logo and packaging. Arnell is also responsible for the recent Pepsi logo revamp, which was criticized for its striking resemblance to Barack Obama’s campaign logo.


The$35 million rebranding effort backfired big time. Fiercely loyal customers fired off angry emails and blog rants complaining about the new packaging. PepsiCo and Tropicana quickly announced that the old, familiar packaging will return to the shelves by next month.

So what happened? According to the New York Times assessment of the debacle, social media factored into the equation in a big way:

Such attention is becoming increasingly common as interactive technologies enable consumers to rapidly convey opinions to marketers.

“You used to wait to go to the water cooler or a cocktail party to talk over something,” said Richard Laermer, chief executive at RLM Public Relations in New York.

“Now, every minute is a cocktail party,” he added. “You write an e-mail and in an hour, you’ve got a fan base agreeing with you.”

That ability to share brickbats or bouquets with other consumers is important because it facilitates the formation of ad hoc groups, more likely to be listened to than individuals.

The Tropicana debacle is reminiscent to the “Motrin Moms” disaster last November. Angry moms took to Twitter to complain about a Motrin ad campaign that offended them. Within 48 hours, Motrin executives had publicly apologized and scrapped the expensive campaign.

What could Tropicana have done differently to successfully rebrand without throwing their most loyal customers into an uproar? If they had used social media to involve their most loyal customers in the process, it would have been a powerful tool in their rebranding process. Instead social media worked against them as customers joined forces to increase the fallout.

What if they had given customers a vote on the new packaging? They would have enjoyed the benefit of months of publicity leading up to the unveiling. Most importantly, they wouldn’t have faced the bad press, the outrage of their loyal customers, or the cost of undoing the $35 million rebranding campaign.

Marketers can learn a valuable lesson from Tropicana’s mistake. Social media has forever changed the way that consumers interact with brands and marketing tactics. If you don’t converse with your customers, it could cost you.

It's more than a message in a bottle.

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