Is your Brand fluent in System 1?

(And why Tropicana is still a ‘Glass Half Full’ option for the System 1 brain)

Thanks to their 2009 branding efforts, Tropicana has become the marketing exemplar of how not to do a rebranding and pack change. Over the past few years however, despite the chuckling and Schadenfreude, the brand has been fighting back. In its latest guise - with a new pack and a new brand asset in ‘little glass’ - Tropicana appears to be back in the heartland of what fresh juice needs to offer – an easy, nutritious health boost for all the family.

Has Tropicana corrected all the problems of its past? Is it back in the game against the Innocent leviathan? From our subjective point of view, the answer is that Tropicana are still missing out on a trick or two that would make all the difference.

Winning brands in the System 1 brain          

Loyalty isn’t about love in the world of FMCG branding, it’s about being easy to buy for the System 1 brain. Conscious, System 2 search and decision-making is tiring and limited, so the brain needs those energy-saving cognitive short-cuts that System 1 branding offers. It is impossible to enter a shop, navigate the aisles and find all the items you need just using your System 2 brain – you’d be exhausted. Consequently, like most things in life that require unavoidable effort (driving, walking to work, opening doors with handles, tying shoelaces etc.) we divert as much of the task as we can into our System 1 brain to make it as automatic as possible, allowing our System 2 brain to continue thinking about work, love, last night’s TV and the infernal worlds of politics or sport.

What the System 1 brain needs in order to make its life easier in a shopping context is to be able to rapidly recognise a brand and swiftly determine its relevance to our motivations and goals. Brands that do this well have more fluency in the brain and can be ‘bought without conscious thought’ - literally. So, let’s look at Tropicana again: Is it now easier to recognise, and can it implicitly trigger relevance at point-of-purchase more efficiently than Innocent?

Recognition & Relevance

A simple experiment: If you want to get a good handle on what your System 1 brain uses to recognise a brand in store, just blur the image by about 40% next to your competitors. “Why would I want to do that?” Good question. Our peripheral vision, the part of our vision that both looks out for lurking danger and does most of the search process in store - is blurred. It lacks the definition of our foveal vision or focus.

“Yeah, right!” You say. “If that’s the case, then why isn’t the image I see in my head blurred?” Well, because the image in your head is not the information fed to the brain by the eye – if it was, it would be inverted, have a blank spot where the optic nerve meets the retina and be blurred at the edges. Every image you see in your head is constructed by your brain using a potent mix of reality, memory and imagination - luckily, the brain changes it back to the right way up, too.

Because the brain sees a blur, System 1 uses the most distinctive features of pack design to de-code the elements and re-construct them to recognise a brand on the shelf. So what are these orange juice brands and what is distinctive about each of them?

The answer is that the first one is Innocent and all the others are Tropicana. The Tropicana packs reflect the evolution of the design from the original pack back in 2009, including the ill-fated change in 2009 (note: the packs are not all the same variant).

We do not consciously know what the System 1 brain is using for recognition, but it can be researched if you know how. Whilst we can deconstruct brands at Walton Barker for precisely this purpose, the points below are educated guesses in relation to the recognition of orange juice brands and Tropicana:

·       Fruit is a category generic – it’s the thing that says ‘This is fresh juice’ to the System 1 brain (not just a glass of juice). It is the thing you need on a pack to be in the category.

·       Innocent has strong brand assets in their bottle shape and the halo over a round fruit / circular shape.

·       Tropicana lost something when they lost the straw.

·       The brand name Tropicana is unlikely to be the way it is recognised. More likely it was the name’s relationship with the solid colour bock surrounding the cap (Please note that System 1 does not read, that’s a System 2 process. System 1 brains ‘see’ the form of the letters together).

·       The more distinctive element of the new design (last on the right) is now likely to be the leaf at the top.

Is the new Tropicana pack better or worse than before?

A key function of brand design is to trigger relevance and this happens through the meaning expressed by key design features and the meaning connected with them. This connected meaning along with the power of a visual element to trigger recognition can be built through advertising. So take a look at Tropicana’s ad to see how (or if) they are doing it…


Looking at the advert there appears to be no real coherent strategy around building improved recognition in store. Whilst the advert and ‘little glass’ do a great job of building relevance, this meaning is not being connected to the elements driving recognition in store. The advert barely shows the new design with the leaf at the top, assuming that the name will do all the recognition work. This is a weak asset to do this with as Innocent looks similar in the way it is written, plus they show the name in two different forms – without the leaf-dot over the ‘I’ on the pack and with it on the sticker. Neither my System 1 nor System 2 brain can fathom the logic behind this thinking!

Tropicana is simply using different elements to fulfil each role. Unless ‘little glass’ is on a piece of POP material, it has no role at the moment of choice in store, which is a bit like being a world-class penalty taker and being on the bench when the game goes to penalties. Alternatively the leaf, hidden in the advert, might be strong if they build it up by emphasising it visually across channels.

Innocent, on the other hand, has a logo that does both – it’s instantly recognisable as Innocent and the design says “healthy goodness for the family!” implicitly. As such, Innocent has a far superior System 1 short-cut language than Tropicana.  This is not a disaster for Tropicana, but the brand will have to work harder in other ways e.g. shelf facings, advertising spend etc. To put it quite simply, they are not fluent in System 1.

Is your brand?

For more on how we help brands develop their System 1 short-cut language for competitive advantage please e-mail or visit our website


Fran Walton has worked in brand insight and consultancy for over 25 years for both agencies and clients alike. Fran has always held a keen interest in the human decision-making sciences. He has applied this knowledge to help brands communicate more effectively in retail environments and across new media, and to drive diffusion of disruptive innovations.