I hope I’m not the first person to tell you that Tropicana orange juice would be flavorless without the help of a New Jersey perfume company. It probably all made sense 40 or 50 years ago when food and brands were manufactured in similar ways. But over the last 50 years, the core philosophy of corporate branding has shifted from “the story that you tell” to “the promise that you keep.” Tropicana never evolved.
Decades ago, big brands focused on manufacturing a brand image. Before the Internet and social media, brand building focused on telling a story about a product or service that made people want to experience it. Broadcast media was trusted by the public and Madison Avenue agencies were wizards at building brand stories that everyone believed. During this bygone era, truthfulness was a secondary consideration.
Tropicana: “Fresh from the Grove”
Some of these brands are still alive and strong today. My favorite example is Tropicana. Many people my age have enjoyed Tropicana orange juice for years based on its unique taste and brand promise of premium orange juice “fresh from the grove.” Tropicana’s story was that the orange juice was fresh, never frozen, and never from concentrate. I judged the taste of other orange juice brands by the taste of Tropicana and wondered why other brands couldn’t match its fresh taste.
Tropicana was very good at creating slogans that highlighted the freshness of its product:
- Tropicana. Straight from the fruit.
- Orange juice direct from oranges, not from concentrate.
- 100% pure squeezed sunshine.
- Feel pure good. Everyday.
- If it tasted any fresher it would still be on the tree.
- Tropicana’s got the taste that shows on your face.
- Specially made for healthy bodies, healthy lives, healthy kids.
It turns out that the reality of Tropicana’s product is very different from the story told by the company’s slogans. The secret to Tropicana’s success is an innovative manufacturing process that preserves orange juice by removing oxygen from the freshly squeezed juice. Removing oxygen allows Tropicana to store the juice for long periods of time without freezing or reducing to concentrate. Unfortunately, it also permanently removes all of the natural flavor of the juice. Here is a summary from Civileats.com:
“The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as ‘deaeration,’ so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year. When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine.”
In the food industry of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, new production techniques made it possible to create highly-processed mass-produced food products that could be produced consistently, shipped globally, and sold everywhere. Tropicana created something new: a manufactured juice product whose premium price was driven by marketing and technology. Tropicana combined a strong brand with a unique taste and claims that were legally protected. For a generation of consumers, Tropicana was the benchmark for fresh.
Tropicana: A Broken Brand Promise
By today’s standards, however, Tropicana is a bad brand. Why? Because Tropicana broke its most core brand promise of a product described as fresh and pure. While Tropicana’s claims might be legally and technically true (the perfume flavor is made by isolating chemicals found in oranges and reassembling them into the flavor of Tropicana), the reality of the Tropicana manufacturing process leaves customers feeling betrayed. Once a loyal Tropicana customer learns the truth, the product never tastes the same.
There is no good escape for brands built on false stories. Consumers take implicit brand promises seriously and are quick to shift brand loyalty when false or misleading claims are exposed. Good brands built on lies can become bad brands very fast. In the case of Tropicana, disappointed consumers have filed more than 20 lawsuits against the company.
Today’s most successful brand builders make promises that they can keep. They highlight unique, authentic elements of their business that are meaningful to consumers. They make sure that product development delivers on the commitments they make.
The best brands are built on trust. If your brand story is built on half-truths and misleading statements, it’s going to be a tough ride.