The Real Thing

Tropicana has been getting a lot of flack over its redesigned juice cartons. Steve Heller called the rebranding “a mistake.” Jason Kottke simply dubbed it “sucky.” Let me respectfully disagree. I was never a great fan of Tropicana’s previous packaging system, with its now familiar orange punctured by a straw. Clever, yes, but the trompe l’oeil dewdrops were a bit much—pointlessly deceptive as the cartons so often ended up with actual condensation. I’ve seen the new packaging repeatedly derided as “generic,” which sells it short. It’s a clean, modernist design that looks like it would fit right in on the shelf of a high-end grocer in London or Amsterdam. I suspect consumers will quickly adjust to its color-coded system for differentiating between juice types (some pulp, no pulp, etc.) And it’s not without a degree of wit either; the half-sphere cap—it’s an orange half!—is a nice touch.

I’ll defend Tropicana’s redesign, but there’s no excuse for the awful new logo its parent, Pepsi, is inflicting on the American public. (Both programs are by the firm Arnell.) There was no reason to replace the old Pepsi logo. It was an American institution, even if not in the league of its chief competitor. The hideous ad campaign—massive bland type dropped out of fields of washed out primary colors—introducing the new logo is a blight on the environment. The new mark reminds me of Paul Rand’s logotype for the Girl Scouts of America, but any positive associations end there.

It’s worth noting that Coke has also redesigned its packaging; the “classic” tag is being removed from all cans and bottles of Coca-Cola. (It had been placed there to differentiate the original version from the disaster that was New Coke.) I know it’s not popular to say so these days, and for good reasons, but I love Coke and have always felt that it is the single greatest consumer product ever invented. It made my day to read Gabrielle Hamilton, chef at Prune—a favorite—praising it this week in New York magazine. “A well-timed, ice-cold Coca-Cola is one of life’s greatest taste and sensory experiences: the way it makes your eyes sting and tear up, and the back of your throat gets that chalky moment as good or better even than some of the highest tannins in a big red wine, and then the full sugar and caffeine rush that completely cures what ails you.” Poetry, and spot on. For my last meal you can hold the Petrus. Just give me the Real Thing.

Update: It has just come to my attention that—of course—there is a facebook group specifically devoted to those who loathe the new Tropicana packaging. While I can’t say I agree in this case, let me applaud the fine citizens who care enough about design to join said group. Fight the power!

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