Tropicana's healthy brand equity will be a challenge for Pepsi in launching new drink
News of PepsiCo's upcoming launch of a Tropicana-branded soda led to various media stories that said this was part of the attempts by soft-drink manufacturers to give health-conscious consumers drinks that were less sugary and more healthy.
Unfortunately for PepsiCo, this was not the intended message - nor the motivation - for the launch. It was another market change that prompted the brand extension, namely the fact that while the soft-drink category in the US grew only 0.7% in 2004 (according to Beverage World), fruit-flavored drinks are outpacing the regular sodas. Pepsi's Slice line had become something of a lackluster brand, so in order to make a strong entry into this relatively lucrative segment, Pepsi decided to replace it and instead leverage the powerful Tropicana brand.
Pepsi is emphatic that the new drink will not be branded as a health drink. PR director Dave DeCecco stated categorically, both in a March 14 PRWeek news story and in talking to me last week, that it is "clearly a soft drink, and we'll market it that way. It is not in the health and wellness category." And while much of the coverage has touted the fact that the drinks will contain 20% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, Tropicana has no plans to market that. It may not even mention it on the label.
But it's not hard to see where the health angle of the coverage came from. I asked a friend who sits far outside the marketing industry what he would expect from a Tropicana-branded soda. He said it would be less healthy than its juice drinks, but more healthy than regular soda. This is the same person who, on buying a home weights machine (now a shirt hanger, he admits), says he started drinking Vitamin Water - 120 calories for a 20 oz. bottle - because it gave him the message that it was "better for you" than water. He confesses that he suspected this wasn't quite logical at the time, but still bought it because it was "sweet and tasty."
He is clearly not the only person who thinks along these lines, judging by media coverage. So while Tropicana is squashing such assumptions of health claims, it does seem a little disingenuous for it not to have expected that people will make health associations with anything attached to its brand. This is particularly striking on Tropicana's website where, thanks to the fact that news of the new drink was out there before Pepsi launched it, there is no mention of it. Instead, the front page is full of, yes, health and wellness messages. That's not to say this won't change once the drink launches in April, but it shows that it's a fine line between wanting to leverage brand equity while simultaneously hoping that people don't make too many associations from one brand to the next.
Given market conditions, the product will likely succeed, but the launch runs the risk of being muddied by people misinterpreting it as an attempt to cash in on the health debate. These people aren't stupid, they've seen other brands do just that. Pepsi's challenge is to prove that this isn't the case for them without hurting Tropicana juice's healthy image.