Pure philosophy

Richard Reed and friends went back to basics to create Innocent smoothies. Their simple, ecological approach has certainly paid off, writes Chris Stevens

Richard Reed’s CV 1982 (age 9): Cleaned neighbours’ windows for money 1984: Sold Smurf stickers at school – and got told off 1989: Set up a gardening business called Two Men Went to Mow, employing school friends 1991-1994: Attended St John’s College, Cambridge. Met Innocent co-founders Adam Balon and Jon Wright and ran club nights and events 1994: Joined BMP DDB as account executive; promoted to account manager, then account director. Accounts included VW, Sony, Eurotunnel and Legoland 1998: Left BMP DDB to set up Innocent with Balon and Wright Innocent has made quite a splash recently, in the press that is. You may not have tried one of its premium-end, pure-fruit concoctions yet, but you will probably have heard of them, if only for their back-to-basics packaging, which injects healthy doses of intelligence and humour into the art of the wrapper. But that’s just the start of all things innocent. In 1998, after four years with ad agency BMP DDB, Richard Reed decided the time had come to pool talents with university friends Adam Balon and Jon Wright and set up a long-talked-about business partnership. After toying with the idea of electric baths, before soon realising that this was a dangerous concept, the friends hit on fruit drinks: a healthy, fun, delicious and novel combination. The idea was famously tested at a London music festival by asking punters to dispose of their containers in one of two bins with a placard above asking: ‘Should we give up our day jobs to make these smoothies?’ The bins were marked ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, and as the ‘Yes’ bin began to overflow, the BMP advertising planner, the management consultant and the Virgin Cola executive decided to hand in their notice the next day. The rest, as they say, is history. Innocent has achieved a great deal over the past four years, expanding to Dublin and Paris and making paper millionaires of the founders, who are now helped by 25 people, many of them friends. Two things stand out about the company’s approach: first, its eco-humanist philosophy – a desire to genuinely do good through its work; and, second, its impressive do-it-yourself approach to marketing and design. The name took a long time to arrive at, says marketing director Reed, ‘but when we got to Innocent, it felt right. We call our drinks Innocent because they are completely pure, fresh and unadulterated.’ What a perfect rationale. Moreover, when it came to naming Innocent’s west London premises and other company assets, the imaginations were certainly firing. The building was dubbed Fruit Towers, a company promotional vehicle was christened The Hairy Grass Van, not to mention The Banana Phone – a giant fruit shaped telephone that customers can call if they get bored. Then there are the famous labels by Turner Duckworth, which by their very simplicity are almost ‘undesigned’, yet sport highly sharp and affectionate copy. For example, the label for Innocent’s blend of oranges, bananas and pineapples reads: ‘It’s quite tricky staying healthy these days. Pizzas and cold beer are often more enticing than mung bean surprise and cabbage water, and jogger’s nipple has always put us off the idea of wearing skimpy vests and pounding the pavements.’ Talk about refreshing. The copy is worked up by a committee every couple of months, but also seems to come naturally, rather than being forced. Then there are the Innocent symbols: ® = Religious experience and = Cabbage. ‘When we showed our friends the labels they all said: “Wow, that sounds so much like you”,’ says Reed. ‘We’re not trying to be funny; we’re a bit geeky really. We’re just being ourselves.’ This authentic DIY creativity seems to beat that of their more manufactured rivals, such as P&J, hands down. All thanks to the personal touch. Innocent’s logo was designed by the now-deceased Deepend. Reed and partners were in talks with the digital media supergroup about an equity swap in exchange for creative services and it was whipped up in a ‘couple of minutes’, confesses Reed. But it serves the business perfectly. Even if the haloed face is frequently mistaken for ‘half an apple and pips’, or a ‘cloud over a pond’, the semiotics are well understood. The company recently ran its first poster ads on the London Underground, but, true to form, Reed says it bought the media space itself. ‘I think we got a good deal,’ he says, quickly adding that lavish advertising expenditure is not for Innocent. So don’t expect Aardman animations just yet. Innocent understands the good that openness and friendliness can achieve for the company’s reputation. An invitation to drop in for a smoothie appears on every label, as does an ‘enjoy by date’. All these little differences add up to one very big difference, and it is something that the buying public has responded to. ‘Innocent is something I really care about,’ says Reed. ‘There is an emotional investment in this thing, as well as a hard-core business one. Ultimately, I think it means that the consumer will get more from it, because so much more has been put into it. ‘When we developed our yoghurt drinks, we took 20 different yoghurts and I stood in the kitchen with a blindfold on and tried every one. I knew some were organic and some weren’t, some were low fat and some weren’t, some were cheap and some weren’t, and we just chose the one that tasted best. And it was gutting, because that was the second most expensive one, but we went with it. We’ll take less margin for one simple reason – we are only about making fresh, healthy drinks that taste better than any other and are better for you than any other. And you can’t have that principle without sacrificing something.’

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