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Can a Redesign Revive Tang's Once-Starry Brand?

Streng Design reimagines Tang for an unusual client: a private equity firm.

It was the unofficial drink of the Space Age. But stateside, it lost its starry cachet over the years, hidden in the powdered-drink aisle by the Kool-Aid Man and Crystal Light, its brand recognition reduced to this: In 2006, terrorists plotted to blow up a trans-Atlantic fight with homemade bombs made, in part, of Tang.

Now, a private equity firm is considering acquiring Tang and has hired Chicago-based Streng Design to give the juice a radical makeover. Their concept rests on recapturing consumers? strongest association with the brand and infusing it with a new sense of delight. Naturally, they're going with a space theme. And it is awesome.

The designers see Tang's fundamental customer as parents in their 20s and 30s — the hip, design-minded sort who maybe shop at Whole Foods and clean their sink with Method. "We didn't want to pander the way you do with Lucky Charms or other sugary cereal, with the kid in the cart seeing the bright box and saying, 'Mom, mom! I want that!?' says Daniel Streng, who co-founded Streng Design with his brother Christopher. ?We wanted large even blocks on the shelf and a simple aesthetic that gives consumers immediate recognition and comfort."

Developed by William Mitchell (who also invented Pop Rocks) in the 1950s for General Foods, Tang's now owned by Kraft Foods, which has more or less neglected the tart drink mix in the United States over the past couple decades (though oddly not abroad, but more on that later). Its amateurish packaging has reflected as much; with giddy text thrown every which way, it looked like it hadn't been redesigned since the late 1980s. Thankfully, that could change.

The new packaging is retro with a twist. It's got a boot print under the catchphrase "one giant leap," as if the mix itself were moon dust. (And the print is echoed on the lid.) The bright orange canister is minimally adorned, and it's a rounded rectangle instead of a tube for better visibility on the shelf. A scoop inside is designed like a rover.

The imagery is repeated in single-serve packets made to resemble Pixy Stix.

Tang, for the record, never made it to the moon. At least not to Buzz Aldrin's knowledge. But that's not the point. The point is that testing — and there was loads of it, the client being a private equity firm — showed that people identify Tang with outer space more than anything else. And since the moon mission is the zenith of the American space program, it emerged as the obvious choice for a logo — which the product desperately needed. (When asked to cite Tang's existing mascot, subjects? answers varied wildly from polar bears, toucans, and monkeys to flamingos and astronauts.)

It's also worth noting that the selection of iconography is obviously aimed at U.S. consumers. Tang is hugely popular in second and third world countries, because it provides Vitamin C at a low cost, something Kraft has deftly exploited. But to appeal to the U.S. market, it needs a different and distinctly American image.

The question now, is whether the private equity group, which Streng declined to name, goes through with the deal. "We've really identified a way to to take all these things we talk about in design thinking, and we've illustrated to a business how that provides value," Streng says. "If they don't end up acquiring Tang, I?m happy to go back and do this for Kraft directly."

[Images courtesy of Streng Design]

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  • Dwayne

    "But to appeal to the U.S. market, it needs a different and distinctly American image." I don't buy it. I think to appeal to the market, they're going to have some sort of value proposition. I think that's shown by their success in the developing world as it has a purpose and function, provide a cheap source for vitamin C. What does it do here? If it's to provide a cheap source for vitamin C, the packaging doesn't say to me, "hey, here's a way I could get cheap vitamin C and possibly avoid scurvy." As long Tang treat design as packaging and lipstick, as opposed to having them dig deeper on the product and the meaning, it's not going to make an appreciable difference.

  • Chris Reich

    I love to see any company come back. I'm not much of a designer so I'll stay out of that conversation. But I will say Tang needs more than a new package to succeed.

    With the focus on health and sugar reduction, the mix needs to be moved AWAY from Kool Aid and Crystal Light. It needs to be reformulated with less sugar. And the 'straw' demo should show someone flavoring a bottle of water. If they can demonstrate 'cool' and a low ratio of sugar compared to a soft drink, they might actually hit pay dirt.

    In other words, changing the package alone will not sell the product. It would be so fun to work on something like this!

    Chris Reich

  • Connie Glover

    In general, I think they are on the right track. But, I was distracted by the boot print while reading the article, thinking to myself, "What's that? I meteor? A moon rock?" It wasn't until I read in the article that it's a boot print, did I get it. But if it wasn't obvious to me, a professional marketer and brand manager, how obvious will it be to parents scanning the package on the shelves? It needs to really, really make sense with the "one giant leap" tag line...and it does not.