What Product Managers Can Learn From The Tropicana Mistake

The Tropicana Product Manager Made A Bad Decision
The Tropicana Product Manager Made A Bad Decision

In the world of product mangers, there are some events that are only spoken about in hushed tones. Examples of product manager decisions that, when seen in the rear view mirror of time, just seem so very, very wrong that you wonder why the decision was ever made. Up until now the poster product for this kind of MAJOR screw-up has always been new Coke. However, someone has taken its place – Tropicana.

The Problem

The Tropicana company sells orange juice. They’ve got a big problem with their product: you can’t see the juice that you are buying. It’s pretty much the only prominent orange juice brand that is NOT sold in a transparent bottle.

The Solution

In order to solve this problem, Tropican reached to marketing and design guru Peter Arnell. Arnell has a long list of successful product designs to his credit including DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and The Home Depot. He has an approach to branding that he calls PowerBranding that he has developed and uses with his customers. He’s quite good at what he does.

For Topicana, Arnell added a picture of a glass of orange juice to the front of the carton. Now you could see the product. Sounds like a winner, eh?

Old Tropicana Design -> New Tropicana Design

The Fallout

Well, the new product packaging design went over like a lead balloon. The public was outraged – the Internet blew up with critics and not satisfied with just bashing the new design, folks also went after Arnell. What was up with this?

It turns out that Tropicana customers had some very deep associations with the way that the product looked. With the new design, something that had been so very familiar was all of a sudden very strange. There’s no arguing that the new design was well thought out (new Coke was well thought out also), but  the product manager had not asked customers the key question: is it ok if I change the design?

Lessons Learned

Not all products have this kind of bonding with their customers, but it’s the responsibility of the product manger to check – you wouldn’t want to become the next Tropicana-like disaster.

Questions For You

Have you ever had to change your product’s packaging design? Did you check with your customers first? Was there any negative reaction? What did you do about angry customers? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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Coming Up Next Time

So if you could wear anything that you wanted to work, what would it be? Would you be showing up in shorts and flip-flops? How about jeans and a T-shirt? Well why don’t you? The answer to this question is something that we normally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, but because it can have a big impact on our careers, perhaps we should…

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