Peter Arnell tries his hand at damage control

By Eli Altman
April 3, 2009
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Filed under Naming

by Eli Altman

Peter Arnell is certainly an interesting character. From the 1600 pairs of eyeglasses, to the finely tailored Tom Ford suits, to the alleged ankle holster and the 20 oranges a day that turn his hands yellow– he’s an eccentric brand on his own. His work isn’t too bad either. He boasts an impressive portfolio of brands ranging from Samsung to Home Depot.

Newsweek’s article “Mad Man” gives us an interesting view on the work and life of Peter Arnell. After following Arnell from one ritzy Manhattan establishment to the other, writer Daniel Lyons shifts his focus to the thorn in Arnell’s side: the Tropicana rebrand. When the new packaging hit stores in January, the reaction couldn’t have been worse. The design was hated so much that it was hard to believe the American public could care so much about what’s printed on an orange juice carton—it was pulled after a month (two months shorter than “New Coke” lasted in 1985).

It’s true, the design was bad. The colors looked artificial and there was no care or tact in connecting the old iconic design with the new system. The type and photography made the juice aisle, which Tropicana dominates, look like 1994.

While everyone seems pretty convinced that this project failed (including Tropicana), the important question is: what happened here? Did Arnell dive too deep into research to see the big picture? Was he allowed to get too close to a household icon without adult supervision? Did his diet of cucumber and carrots with mustard mess up his brain chemistry? Everyone agrees that Arnell is an elite salesman… maybe that blurred Tropicana’s view of their customer base. While it’s pretty unanimous that the design doesn’t work, everyone has their own theories as to how and why.

According to Lyons, “Arnell claims it doesn’t bother him. But when you spend some time around him, you quickly realize that (a) he’s extremely insecure, (b) he knows this mess has damaged him and (c) he wants to move past this as quickly as possible.”

I don’t blame him. It sucks when people don’t like your work. It wasn’t fun in design school and it isn’t fun now. But while we don’t have control over how people perceive our work, we do have control over how we learn from it and how we get past it. Clearly Arnell has had a terrific run that makes even ‘successful’ designers envious. However, this doesn’t mean he’s above executing one project poorly. It happens to the best of us big guy.

If you’re not capable of taking a shot to your ego and admitting when you’ve messed up, the wound will never heal. People will just keep poking and prodding because they can see it gets to you. Swallowing your pride, and being ok with the fact that you don’t have the perfect answer every time just means you’re human. People won’t stop hiring you for that—they’ll stop hiring you because they fear your ego has grown big enough to get in the way of your ability to produce great work. And hey, if Arnell can’t see that, maybe this shot to his ego is exactly what he needs.

"...this is an orange"