This is a story about brand and ad strategy, about a man who ate 50 oranges a day, and how ignoring a small but fervent group of loyal consumers went horribly awry.
Thinking of playing it safe? Going after the broadest market? The biggest slice of the pie? The easy middle ground?
Fair enough, but heed this warning: playing it safe might not be as safe as you think. It might even be the worst decision your company will ever make.
Now that I’ve sent a few shivers down your spine, let me tell you a tale of a man who ate 50 oranges a day and yet, failed to understand a deep passion for orange juice. A man who ruined his career because of his perplexing ignorance of the world’s most beloved citrus fruit beverage.
Peter Arnell grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 60s where he would start Arnell Group: an advertising and branding agency. His firm would represent big corporations like Reebok, Samsung, Chrysler and more. His agency was clearly a big success before the big events of this story unfolded.
You may think it cruel to draw attention to a man’s failure, but how about a little character assassination to make you feel a little more comfortable with it? Peter had a reputation as being a nightmare boss. He was cruel, abusive (both verbally and physically) and was even sued by four women in 1996 for his terrible behaviour toward them. Feel better now about picking on Peter? I thought so.
Peter grew obese over the years reaching north of 400 lbs. He eventually became concerned that he would not be able to see his kids grow up given the poor state of his health.
That’s when he decided to lose over 250 lbs maintaining a strict diet. He had his favourite restaurants prepare special meals but ended up making oranges the central part of his diet.
He ate between 20-50 oranges in a day and achieved his goal weight of 150 lbs in less than 30 months. Peter’s weight loss coincided with his agencies biggest project ever: rebranding PepsiCo.
A man named Massimo D’Amore, a rising star at Pepsi’s International operations, (and the other soon-to-be disgraced person in this story) hired Arnell’s team, believing that Peter was the right genius to rebrand all of PepsiCo’s beverages, including Tropicana, America’s number one orange juice brand.
Massimo’s message to the rest of PepsiCo was get on board with Arnell’s new branding or get out. Many execs left given the ultimatum and PepsiCo’s rebranding was left largely in Peter’s orange stained hands.
The Pepsi logo was changed to look like the old logo rotated a bit and the white line thickened in the middle.
The Tropicana design was changed from an orange with straw to a glass of orange juice. An orange shaped cap you had to squeeze to open was added to the package as well.
The redesign was a triumph, if the goal was to anger consumers and drop sales by 20% within a month.
A few months after the rebranding debut, PepsiCo decided to scrap the design. A design that cost the company millions of dollars was thrown out. The whole debacle was an embarrassment the size of Coke’s reformulated cola blunder in 1985.
How did it all go wrong? Arnell and D’Amore did their market research. Test subjects largely approved of the design, but what did the passionate minority think?
A small percentage of test subjects, devout Tropicana fans, hated the new design. The removal of the orange and straw was a betrayal. It made Tropicana look like low-grade orange juice from concentrate, not the 100% orange juice they loved and respected.
Peter, a man whose passion for oranges was unmatched, failed to see the passion Tropicana drinkers felt for their orange with a straw.
Focusing on the masses, Peter and Massimo forgot to account for the passionate and loyal consumers who have the power to determine the fate of a product. The data was there in the study they conducted, they just chose to ignore it.
Peter Arnell was fired from the agency he started and Massimo D’Amore retired a couple years later having left PepsiCo worse off than when he took on his larger role. It is safe to say that both individuals left the field in some level of disgrace.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here? Oranges are great diet food and you should always check in with your passionate, loyal consumer when changing a product in any way. The whims of consumers at large may seem like a safe bet, but those passionate few are always there to remind you that safe is anything but.
Read more about the power of the passionate few in Spin: How Politics Has the Power to Turn Marketing on Its Head by Clive Veroni.