How One Clever Trick Helped Build Innocent Smoothies into a Multi-Million Pound Brand

How One Clever Trick Helped Build Innocent Smoothies into a Multi-Million Pound Brand

No one would call the rise of ‘Innocent Smoothies’ anything other than spectacular. From humble beginnings at a jazz festival back in 1999, Innocent has been catapulted to fame and fortune as the United Kingdom’s favourite smoothie-maker, cornering about two-thirds of an already saturated market. They are currently shifting a couple of million smoothies a week, and as these gargantuan sales figures show, Innocent has become the nations ‘go to’ brand of smoothie.

But why is this?

The most obvious response would be ‘because they taste great’. However, whilst Innocent smoothies are undoubtedly delicious, are they really that different from any other smoothie? Blended fruit is blended fruit after all, and health conscious pioneers long ago figured out which combinations of fruit work well together and which don’t.

This fact, combined with Innocent’s premium prices, should push consumers to cheaper brands (and there are certainly enough of them on offer…)

…and yet their customers are still here.

Innocent’s staggering success must therefore lie in its marketing, and it is here where they are truly exceptional, encapsulating the archetype of a healthy, ethical brand. As well as using only natural ingredients and donating 10% of all profits to charity, Innocent has developed a unique, quirky style of advertising that can perhaps best be showcased by the fact that all Innocent’s produce is delivered via AstroTurf-covered vans, showcasing their ‘natural’ image.


But there is more to their marketing than meets the eye, which helps to explain Innocent’s meteoric success: Anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism is the innate human tendency to attribute human-like characteristics to non-human entities, or in this case, an inanimate object.It has long been a staple of fables and fairytales (think Beatrice Potter’s Peter Rabbit) but has more recently been adopted as a canny marketing tool.

As Ann McGill and Pankaj Aggarwal have explored in detail in a study for the Journal of Consumer Research, when humans see human traits in a product, these traits reflect their perception of the product, and vice versa. The title of their study: ‘Is That Car Smiling At Me?’, says it all. We all perceive the front of most cars as resembling a face, and that face in turn changes the way we perceive the car. For example, which of these two cars is ‘happier?’

 The correct answer is neither. Cars don’t have emotions because they’re inanimate objects. That doesn’t stop us from identifying the one on the right as being the ‘happier’ car and the one of the left somehow being the ‘sadder’ one.

As McGill and Aggarwal have shown, consumers are more likely to evaluate a product positively if they have anthropomorphized it. They are especially more likely to evaluate it positively if they anthropomorphize it as reflecting personality traits they deem to be ‘positive’.

This is where Innocent comes in. The fact that their logo – the ‘face with a halo’ – resembles a human (or rather, angel) means that consumers inevitably see human characteristics in the product. Cleverer still, the face has no facial expression. This neutral facial expression means that consumers can project their own emotions onto the product, and can therefore see whatever they want to see. Coincidentally, this is the same reason that Teddy Bears are given neutral faces – to allow children to project their own emotions onto them.

Innocent have masterfully furthered the anthropomorphism of their product through additions such as adding little knitted hats to the top of their bottles (whilst raising money for Age UK in the process).

More ingeniously, they have also given their smoothies a fun, quirky ‘personality’. My favorite example of this is what you see when you look at the base of the carton… 

Innocent’s rise to the top demonstrates just how powerful anthropomorphism can be as a marketing tool. Our tendency to see some inanimate objects as being somehow human, and perceiving them more positively as a result, offers a simple and effective marketing opportunity for almost any brand. There can be no doubt that we will see this tactic employed ever more frequently by canny marketeers, and we will still fall for it every time.

Maybe they’re not so Innocent, after all.

By Callum Woodcock (@CDWoodcock)

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