Thoughts | Amelia Boothman - Director of Brand and Innovation Strategy

The end of innocent-itis?

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It has been twenty years since Innocent first appeared on super-market shelves. Since then, it's grown to become Europe's biggest juice and smoothie brand. But is its much admired (and frequently copied) approach about to run out of road? I think it might be...

With its astro-turfed vans and homespun backstory of three guys wondering whether they should give up their day jobs to chase he dream, Innocent set the standard for challenger brand launch narratives. Its child-like design aesthetic, catchy pack copy and single-minded, quality driven product proposition caught and rode a wave of antipathy towards big, impersonal and above all, industrial brands. 

'We promise to never use preservatives, stabilisers or any weird stuff. And if we do you can tell our mums' 

The magic of Innocent was an apparently authentic blend of natural cues and wide-eyed, friendly fun that people would pay more for. Commercial success (not to mention countless workshops case studies) encouraged a succession of 'formula followers' in what could be described as a prolonged outbreak of Innocent-itis. But with that approach now effectively part of the mainstream, can it continue to work and win with consumers? 

Even before its acquisition by Coca-Cola, those of a more cynical disposition might have argued that the masters of Fruit Towers were more 'faux-naif' than truly innocent. But regardless of your take on the story, the challenge for the brand and its imitators may lie in a more general shift in attitudes.

'There is a generation emerging that is more savvy and sceptical' says Andy Kirk, Design Strategy Director at 1HQ. 'They're not so easily persuaded that brands can be their friends, nor do they necessarily want them to be. They're looking for a clear, direct and relevant message, which is less contrived - and they certainly don't want to be patronised.'

This shift is being reflected in codes that run counter to the 'heart on our sleeves' interpretation of emotional branding that has been so much in vogue. 'Rather than fake friendship and forced familiarity, brands are now offering something altogether more rational,' argues Andy. 

This approach is reflected in more restrained visual and verbal language and emotionally its cool to the point of being aloof. At its extremed, it goes as far as tipping into 'de-branded' territory. Whether it becomes a new norm remains to be seen, but as Andy Kirk points out 'there is certainly something powerful in a representation of honesty built on not appearing desperate to please.'

Of course, should a movement towards 'un-friending' amongst brands take root, it's in the cyclical nature of trends that there will be a counter reaction. So it's not inconceivable that there will come a time in the future when we will be discussing the end of 'aloof-itis'.

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