The brand that gets talked about the most when I meet clients is Innocent. It’s incredible how many times it comes up as a case study in design and branding.

Remember Pete & Johnny’s smoothies (also known as P&J)?. Branded by Smith & Milton (where I worked at the end of the 90’s), they were around before Innocent (they were the first smoothies available in the UK) and to a large degree had a similar ethos. P&J mastered the art of engaging copy on the pack which was (arguably) copied by Innocent. P&J were the first to advertise on TV, had multi-million pound advertising budgets, sponsored ITV1’s reality TV series Survivor and greatly outspent Innocent in promotions, advertising and marketing.

• P&J was launched 4 years before Innocent in 1994 (Innocent launched in 1998).
• P&J was still the dominant smoothie in 2004. (41% compared to Innocent’s 27%)
• P&J was taken over by PepsiCo in 2004.
• Innocent was the dominant smoothie in 2005. (45% compared to P&J’s 33%)
• By 2007 Innocent dominated the market with over 70% of sales. P&J were way behind with under 15%.
• P&J was redesigned and renamed but all to no avail. By 2009 P&J was gone. PepsiCo pulled the plug.

How did this happen? P&J were first, spent more on marketing, advertising and had listings everywhere.

The first mistake was that P&J changed from being pure smoothies to using concentrate (we thought it was a mistake at the time). Innocent use the whole fruit and stole P&J’s ground. Innocent are all about the fruit, people were willing to pay extra for the real deal. Talking of the real deal, P&J smoothies were bought by Pepsi. Innocent are now (part) owned by Coca Cola (who also think of themselves as the Real Thing).

Innocent had something going for them from the start.
1. They had a great real story for how the business started.
2. They had a strong idea and ethical core to their brand that ran through every aspect of their business.
3. They expressed all this with a great personality, fun and wit.
4. They stuck with it, built on it and made it real.

In addition to their brand story, Innocent practices what they preach. They set up ‘The Innocent Foundation’ and give 10% of their profits to good causes. They have a ‘banana phone’ that anyone could call and anyone in ‘Fruit Towers’ could answer (Fruit towers is the name of their head office). The phone really is shaped like a banana. They put woolly hats on their bottles in the winter and give money from each sale to shelter. Corporate responsibility is at the heart of their business model. They really know who they are. All their design is now created in house. They even made their own TV ad.

People talk about them. People love them.

In contrast Pete & Johnny weren’t real people, they were made up names. There was no brand story, just a veneer of fun (although it was groundbreaking at the time). When they were taken over by PepsiCo they went to a different branding agency, changed the name, made the brand cheaper, changed the branding and extracted all the personality that had originally made them successful in the first place. They went from being extra-ordinary to being ordinary.

Innocent hitched a ride of the fun personality of P&J but have added substance behind the veneer. The biggest difference between the two brands was truth. Innocent is based on a real story, P&J was based on fiction. Having a real story is far more marketable. “>People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it (click to see another one of our posts to read more on this).

There are lots of really interesting small brands out there in times of recession. If they want to be the ‘Innocent’ of the future, it’s not always about who is first, it’s about who is best. Don’t try to be something you are not, there is a reason why you started your business. Make that reason the foundation of your branding. Make your branding the foundation of your marketing and PR. Stick with it. If your reason for being in business is strong enough, people will believe in it and people will believe in you.

Want to read more?:
Asset Research have some excellent info on researching Innocent (and other brands) within the supermarket environment. Click here.

The Design Council have some interesting case studies on their site. Here is the Innocent one (click for original article).

AN interesting article on the battle of the smoothies from 2004

Richard Reed interview

The end of P&J

And finally, Richard Reed speaks!

Thanks for Reading. What are your thoughts?

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5 thoughts on “INNOCENT STORIES

  1. Tessa says:

    I’ve worked with innocent on three separate consumer research projects, one of which resulted in the highly successful innocent kids’ drinks. Innocent are impressive to work with for three reasons: they don’t accept the status quo – they make sure they launch products which beat existing norms in product categories; they employ extremely smart motivated people and set them measurable goals to reach; they interrogate their business model intensively from every angle before they launch a new product. And for these reasons, they deserve their success.


    • leenewham says:

      Yep, I totally agree Tessa. Like many, I love Innocent, what they do and how they do it. Most of all I love why they do it. Having met some of the designers who work there they seem to really believe in what they do…

      …and of course you do better work when you believe in what you do.


  2. Tessa says:

    I’ve worked with innocent on three consumer research projects, and have examined their working approach up close and personal. There are 3 reasons why they are so successful: they ensure that the products they launch beat all existing norms in the category; they interrogate the business idea from every angle before launch; they employ smart motivated people to execute every aspect of launch and marketing support with intensity and lazer-sharp focus. And that is why they are so damn good at what they do.


  3. Ali says:

    I’m not sure what he was trying to say at the end but it sounded like ‘a bit of shit’. 😀

    innocent smoothies truly taste like heaven, I wonder how long they spend on finding the best fruit and making every bottle taste that good?!


    • Hi, actually it does sound like he says that!
      Innocent smoothies are nice, they seem to have kept their company culture intact despite being owned by Coca Cola. We have met a few designers who have worked with them and they seem to have a good philosophy and people like working there. Hopefully it will stay that way. The only thing wrong with smoothies is that you loose the goodness in the rest of the fruit. They aren’t a fruit alternative and they do have a lot of sugar in them. But at least there is a little bit of goodness in them too.


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