Published on: April 16, 2009Now available on ITunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
As you might expect, I spend a lot of time reading, but there are articles and books that sort of slip by me…but one of the great things about the Internet is that they’re always out there, just waiting to be found.
Just such a piece was in the April 6 issue of Newsweek, and concerned one Peter Arnell, who has the dubious distinction of having designed the new Tropicana orange juice box that, well, sort of went down in flames when it was declared by consumers to be an unmitigated disaster. It’s not that it wasn't attractive…it’s just that the carton looked like generic orange juice and not one of the best-respected juice brands in history.
Now, that’s okay. One of the advantages of orange juice is that companies don't make a ton of it in advance; when it was determined that sales were collapsing because nobody could find the Tropicana in the supermarket cooler, owner PepsiCo could reverse the decision and go back to the old cartons with less fuss than, say, if it had to make the same decision about a new Pepsi logo. (Which, of course, Pepsi is hoping it won’t have to do…Arnell also redesigned that, and while the reaction hasn’t been unanimously positive, it looks like the new logo won’t need any radical surgery.)
In some ways – and senior management at Pepsi and the company’s shareholders may not agree with this – I even think it is okay to have made this mistake. Sometimes you only really understand the value of what you have when it is taken away…that’s what happened with New Coke, and that seems to be what happened with Tropicana. Lesson learned…expensive lesson, I concede, but a lesson that maybe could not have been learned any other way. Besides, what’s a little branding mistake among friends.
But that’s not what grabbed me about the Newsweek article about Arnell, who says that his agency is a "multi-disciplinary brand and product invention company" that "examines the space between brand assets and consumer desire" to "help brands capture and realize differentiation by exploiting a unique emotional dimension."
Give me a break.
From reading this story about Arnell, the one thing that seems most obvious is that this guy is about as out of touch with average Americans – you know, the ones who actually buy or don't buy products and make them successes or failures – as a human being can be. Everything about him – the pomposity, the arrogance, the affectations, the idiosyncrasies – screams insecurity and a life being lived inside a bubble.
Maybe he wasn’t always that way, but it is hard to imagine that he has any idea what shoppers – real shoppers want or need. From the alleged 1,600 pairs of antique eyeglasses to the Jeep outfitted with fire engine lights to the handgun that he supposedly carries, this is a guy who, I’m guessing, doesn’t spend a lot of time in supermarkets for reasons other than research.
Listen to this paragraph from Newsweek:
“…in the midst of the Tropicana controversy, someone leaked a 27-page memo Arnell wrote for PepsiCo crammed with so much pseudo-intellectual claptrap—references to the Mona Lisa, the Parthenon, the golden ratio, the relativity of space and time, magnetic fields, ‘perimeter oscillations’ of the Pepsi logo, the ‘gravitational pull’ of a can of Pepsi on a supermarket shelf, the rate of expansion of the universe—that some thought it might be a hoax. It wasn't.”
Perimeter oscillations? Again, I say: Give me a break.
But if I were PepsiCo, it wouldn’t just worry me that Arnell seems to be a classic nut job. After all, sometimes the “mad genius” thing can have some appeal and even be useful. But what would really worry me is the fact that he seemed intent on convincing the Newsweek reporter that he was right about the Tropicana redesign and that the rest of the world just didn’t get it, wasn't able to appreciate his art and wisdom.
If he really thinks this way, that’s one problem. Because we who are in the business of providing products and services to consumers cannot ever afford to think that we are smarter than and superior to the people we serve. It happens…but it almost always is a mistake.
The other problem is that Arnell is telling people that this is what he thinks. Arrogance on parade isn’t almost always an error in judgment …it always is.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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