Suddenly, a whole range of UK food brands are using a faux-naif, child-like style to market their products. But is the Innocent approach already worn thin by all those jumping on the bandwagon? David Benady investigates
The innocent effect is rippling across UK brands. The naive, matey tone of voice used on the smoothie range’s packaging has been widely imitated by designers looking to escape the cold, authoritarian timbre of established brands. This faux-naif style seeks to recreate some of the rough and ready innocence of alternative healthfood products launched in the 1960s and 1970s. Their designs really were scrawled out in rough on the kitchen table by owners who rejected a corporate marketing approach. The do-it-yourself, hand-drawn style of brands such as Innocent reflects consumers’ growing distrust of the slick multinational brands, especially in the food sector.
Mark Wickens, creative partner of design group Brandhouse, says, ‘There has been an over-reaction, prompted partly by the runaway success of Innocent, to stop talking down to consumers and start being their best mate. The point about innocence is you can’t use it simply to become friends with the consumer. It becomes patronising and consumers see through this a mile off.’ Brands that have achieved a simple tone of voice, he says, include Surf Tropical and Camper Shoes. It can also be seen in the plain English used by Marks & Spencer.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – acquired by Unilever in 2000 – was a pioneer of faux-naif design, with its cartoon pictures of cows, clouds and daisies, smile-in-the-mind copy and child-like handwriting. Some see Innocent’s branding as an imitation of Pete & Johnny’s smoothies, which created the UK smoothie market in 1994 and adopted a Ben & Jerry’s, child-like style. Acquired by PepsiCo in 2005, the brand was renamed PJ Smoothies and relaunched with a cold, corporate look by Landor Associates, which failed to strike a chord with consumers.
Landor has just redesigned the range again, this time seeking to recover some of the original design simplicity that was lost after the PepsiCo takeover. The new packs have a hand-drawn exploding logo bearing words starting with ‘P’ and ‘J’ – such as ‘pure jaunt’ and ‘perky joy’. Another brand which has adopted a faux-naif look to return to its roots is Jordans Cereals. It has been redesigned by BR&Me to reclaim some of the natural, simple values of its original 1972 launch. Certain ingredients go into creating a faux-naif style. Achieving that unthreatening, simple tone may involve telling a homely story about the origins of the brand. There’s often a VW camper van involved. Conversational copy on packs uses childish words like ‘stuff’, ‘loads’, ‘scrummy’ and ‘hubby’.
Munchy Seeds, a range of flavoured ‘healthy’ seed snacks, has just been redesigned by Ziggurat. The packaging tells us that the product was developed by entrepreneur Lucinda Clay’s ‘granny inNew Zealand to keep us out of the sweetie jar’. Ziggurat account director Kellie Chapple says the idea behind the rebrand was to focus on the way people use their hands to eat seeds, so the pack uses a hand-model styling different animals, such as a goose, to bring out a sense of playfulness. She says other brands in this sector tend to be quite stern, like The Food Doctor, so the naive approach gives Munchy a point of difference. ‘They wanted something quite cheeky that reflected their personalities in the brand. Lucinda is from New Zealand and is very down to earth, and Crispin (her “hubby”, the pack tells us) is a Brit. They are very easygoing people, and we’ve tried to reflect this as a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously.’ ‘I do think Innocent Drinks has opened up a lot of clients’ eyes that you can be a big brand and have a personality, you don’t have to be corporate and straight-laced,’ she adds. Ziggurat has designed packaging for other naivist brands such as Higgidy pies – whose website is classic faux naif – and Jonathan Crisp.
Also acknowledging a debt to Innocent is Salty Dog crisps, which features a cartoon picture of a dog and puts jokes on its packaging. The brand was created by former KP distribution executive David Willis. He says, ‘When we launched, I was aware of Innocent and I thought they were a cool little brand. I was touring sandwich shops in my van and I could see how well they were doing. But I didn’t have a brief of wanting to be like Innocent.’ However, one striking similarity is the naming of the company’s head office. Innocent calls its headquarters Fruit Towers, while the crisp company has chosen the name Salty Towers. Meanwhile, chocolate brand Montezuma calls it head office Chocolate Towers.
Salty Dog’s packaging was designed by consultancy Haines McGregor. Its creative director, Jeremy Haines, says, ‘For a lot of people, the serious corporate tone is inappropriate in food, as people want to be talked to on a more human level.’ He believes that there is also an element of ‘regression’ among consumers looking to return to a childlike innocence and wind the clock back on an age of perceived threats.
The brand has created a premium version called Darling Spuds, with packaging designed by Davies Leslie-Smith. ‘It’s like stripping away the layers and returning to an older time, it reminds me of the 1960s and 1970s graphics, where it was simpler and when people trusted their products more,’ says creative director Tim Leslie-Smith. He detects an influence from children’s books in the designs and points to the use of graphics in ads such as the ‘squirt’ campaign for Robinsons Fruit Shoot.
Faux naif may be a backlash against the glossy marketing of big corporations, but unless it reflects truly innocent brand values, it could become as worn-out and stale as the designs it seeks to replace.