What we can learn from Tropicana

What we can learn from Tropicana

James Martin-Harper |

Visual hammers involving action, movement or demonstration are considerably more effective than static hammers, or still pictures. The advertising medium that can best handle “action” is television.

A television visual demonstration, especially one that contains an element of shock, is not only memorable, it’s also believable. A visual “shock” doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as parting the red sea. Television is an intimate medium. Johnny Carson used to get a big laugh by raising his eyebrows.  Today, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert often do the same. As television moves to high definition and sets get more authentic, the potential for subtlety increases. A visual “shock” can also be achieved by juxta positioning elements. Pouring a cup of moisturizing lotion into a bar of Dove soap creates visual tension or shock.

Another example of juxta positioning is Tropicana’s “straw in the orange.” Neither a straw nor an orange is visually shocking, but the combination certainly is. Its especially so on TV where the viewer can see a person sticking a straw into an orange and then drinking from the straw. You can’t get juice out of an orange by sucking on a straw, you might be thinking. True, but a visual can have emotional power whether it’s true or not. The viewer thinks, Tropicana contains the juice of whole oranges because it's “not from concentrate”. Just as shocking is the brand’s market share. Although Tropicana is premium priced, its market share is about 30 percent.

This is left-brain verbal thinking, focused on the rational power of words to incite emotion instead of the inherently emotional power of visuals like the straw-in-the-orange.

As you probably know, consumer reaction to the new Tropicana campaign was swift and vicious. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of negative comments. In two months, sales dropped 20 percent. The negative reaction was so swift and dramatic that Tropicana dropped the new packaging and brought back “straw in the orange.” Actually, Tropicana came back with two visual hammers. The straw in the orange and a zipper that symbolically opens a carton to allow 16 fresh-picked oranges to jump inside the Tropicana package. Both are nice visuals, but are two hammers better than one? No. They just create visual confusion for the Tropicana brand.