New Tropicana Packaging, Malcolm Gladwell and Sensation Transference


Two days ago, I noticed a fairly drastic change in the tunnel between the Blue and Red lines, over near State and Jackson. On the way home, I spotted tons of billboard ads up and down both sides of the tunnel.

The weird thing was… that morning? Nothing. All the frames and ads had been magically installed during the day. Given the typical view I have of CTA workers “hanging out,” this struck me as surprisingly efficient.


Another interesting thing to note is that the new Tropicana ads also made their way up. If you hadn’t heard, the new ads feature the new Tropicana logo and packaging design, which triggered a great deal of customer backlash and complaints.


Personally, I kind of like the newer design. It feels more modern, cleaner in a way. Looking at all the white space and comparing the new packaging to the old… I’m surprised how much they pared back (on at least two sides of the carton).

But in looking at the two, I can’t help but think of Malcolm Gladwell’s story about how a packaging change to 7-Up also had a similar affect on customers. In his book, Blink, Gladwell talks about a concept called sensation transference:

This is a concept coined by one of the great figures in twentieth-century marketing, a man named Louis Cheskin, who was born in Ukraine at the turn of the century and immigrated to the United States as a child.

Cheskin was convinced that when people give an assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself.

To put it another way, Cheskin believed that most of us don’t make a distinction — on an un-conscious level — between the package and the product. The product is the package and the product combined.

For true fans of Tropicana, the change then wasn’t simply a design or packaging change – it comes across as an actual change to the product itself. Though the official Tropicana site emphasizes that “It’s a new look and a new energy, but when it comes to the juice, it’s just the way you like it.”

Though the actual juice itself remains unchanged, the general feedback from the public seems feel otherwise. Mess with the brand, mess with the product.

Here’s the great 7-Up parallel from Gladwell’s book:

Cheskin’s offices are just outside San Francisco, and after we talked, Masten and Rhea took me to a Nob Hill Farms supermarket down the street, one of those shiny, cavernous food emporia that populate the American suburbs. “We’ve done work in just about every aisle,” Masten said as we walked in. In front of us was the beverage section. Rhea leaned over and picked up a can of 7-Up.

“We tested Seven-Up. We had several versions, and what we found is that if you add fifteen percent more yellow to the green on the package — if you take this green and add more yellow — what people report is that the taste experience has a lot more lime or lemon flavor. And people were upset. ‘You are changing my Seven-Up! Don’t do a ‘New Coke’ on me.’

It’s exactly the same product, but a different set of sensations have been transferred from the bottle, which in this case isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

I don’t know that images (above) accurately reflect the exact colors of the two packages. But to my eyes, the newer Tropicana design looks a little more yellow, while the older one seems a little more orange. Here are a few other comparison points: check out this Flickr image, as well as the official Tropicana site.

To me, my initial reaction is that the newer design seems a little more on the “sour” side, compared to the original. The orange-ness of the original seems sweeter to me, looking at both side by side.

Given the concept of sensation transference, I can absolutely see why people would prefer the original – based sheerly on color alone. Who knows though, maybe it’s just that folks resist change in general….

But the Gladwell/Cheskin theory is just more fun, IMO.

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, and really enjoyed both Blink and The Tipping Point. I really like his approach to topics, and how he brings readers in to his particular (and unique) point of view. After reading it, I was seriously tempted to buy a copy for every manager I knew. Seriously.

To give you an additional taste of Gladwell’s style and approach, check out a Ted Talk he did back in 2004, on the topic of happiness and What We Can Learn from Spaghetti Sauce:

Somewhat tangentially related – I first learned of Malcolm Gladwell thanks to Justin, who invited me and Chris out to a talk at Maxim’s. More four years after that time, Liz and I will be hosting our wedding reception at Maxim’s.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. This book has been on or near the best seller list for a long time. Either this one or Tipping Point. Their covers look the same; I can’t keep ‘em straight.I think the new Tropicana packaging looks cheap. It looks like a generic product. Too much white. Makes me think the juice will be watered down.

    juliet Reply


  2. I absolutely agree with juliet – the new packaging definitely makes it look generic. Would be fine if they also changed the price to generic!

    daruma Reply


  3. In attempts to look up-to-date and hip, readers of the Washington Post voted single-word titled books among the most disgusting developments of the last 10 years. They went as far as listing Blink and Outliers as offenders. Having lived among them I have to say most of them never got past that single word in order to form their opinions.

    uptopwhatwhat Reply


  4. The new one looks totally synthetic and de-humanized.It doesn’t matter what font or size is used to tell ‘pure & natural’. For the sensation transference that will be invisible when compared to the orange itself.

    sebastian Reply


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