Sticking with what you believe in not only changes the way you approach packaging but, if the results prove effective, you can get a queue of rivals wanting to mimic it.
Most drinks packaging is designed to hold the liquid and provide space for the logo, ingredients and legal necessities, but it rarely offers a glimpse into the philosophy of those people who make the product.
But Innocent is different, and its approach to the drinks market has grabbed the attention of rivals and demonstrated that it's possible to incorporate an individual tone of voice into the packaging of something as straightforward as a smoothie or bottle of water.
The results are not measured just in financial terms; there's also a social dimension, and through its focus on natural products, Innocent has found itself and its product range fuelling the public's growing awareness of healthy eating and drinking.
From the very start, when the one person at Innocent with any computer skills designed the packaging on a piece of desktop publishing software, the basics of the look of the product were created: the smiley face, known as 'the dude', along with his halo was part of the core image. "We didn't use an agency in 1999, we designed it ourselves in Quark or something. But a couple of years ago we went to Pearlfisher for a design refresh," says Dan Germain, head of creative at Innocent.
There were three main concepts that Germain says underlined what Innocent stood for, and these had to be incorporated in the design refresh: home-made, natural looking and a bit posh. As well as those stipulations, any design agency taking on the job had to be aware that the landscape in the world of natural drinks had changed: back when Innocent started, smoothies were pretty much an unknown concept; now, they were a well-established product appealing to a widening market.
"It has really changed, and the whole fresh juice bit in a supermarket has grown massively - there's lots of freshly squeezed stuff and smoothies. People want healthy eating, and we started making smoothies at the right time," says Germain.
But wanting to be successful didn't mean going downmarket. Germain and his colleagues were clear about keeping the drink away from the luminous yellow-and-orange end of the fresh juice industry occupied by some of the competition.
"We are as far away from that end of the market as you can be because those [competitors] are selling something that doesn't derive from nature. The design had to reflect what the packaging should not be - contrived or trashy - and we didn't want to use any graphical tricks," he says.
The task of coming in and meeting that challenge fell to Pearlfisher. Jonathan Ford, creative partner at the design consultancy, recalls that the Innocent range had expanded to sell juicy water and 'thickies' and also enter into the children's market, leaving the brand in danger of getting overstretched.
"Our job was to help sort them out after five years of explosive growth," Ford says. "It had started with a couple of smoothies, but visually was becoming a bit of a mess and we wanted to take the good stuff they had created themselves and make it look consistent and make it more desirable."
Streamlining the brand
That process started away from the computer screens as the team at Pearlfisher sat armed with sketch pads in a room with astro-turf on the floor, pictures of nature on the wall and plenty of Innocent products around to provide inspiration.
"We were creating new symbols for the range and you can't do it all from a computer - computers can't do the ideas for you," says Ford.
The project took around three to four months, which is quick for this type of project, and then the packaging design was created using the various elements in the Adobe Creative Suite. The resulting changes were subtle but important, with the dude moving into a central position and the typography getting a makeover. The result was more balanced, with an infusion of colour. The caps, which had been a plastic shade of gold, were replaced by a clear white that didn't conflict with the colour of the drink.
Previously, there had been a number of different styles used, with Christmas trees popping onto labels in the festive season and other one-offs with a look that wasn't consistent with the other products in the range. Now, importantly, the rules of the new design included some flexibility to cope with an expected expansion of the range.
Innocent tone of voice
The magic ingredient in the design, which has led to some companies beating a path to Ford's door asking for the same results, is the tone of voice that Innocent manages to get across to the customer through its packaging. Germain explains that, in his eyes, the most important part of the packaging is hidden away at the back of the bottle or carton. This space is used as a way of encouraging dialogue with customers, and it also has the additional benefit of avoiding the need for focus groups.
"There are 90 to 100 words on the back of the product which, from the beginning, have always been our own advertising space and a way of talking to people. We have a full-time team of people who get 500-600 emails a week. Talking to people who drink our drinks is the best way to get to know people, not through artificial situations," he says.
The words on the back of the drinks are supported by the 'banana phone', which is manned by staff there to listen to people who suggest future flavours of smoothies or even just talk about their holidays.
One of the other consequences of the blurb on the back is that some of the usual pieces of packaging furniture had to be sacrificed.
"We don't have to break it down scientifically - people who drink the drinks understand it's about making things clear. 'Your statutory rights are not affected'? We didn't know what that meant and thought if people had a problem, they would phone us up and tell us about it," Germain adds.
Jonathan Ford believes that the text and images on the back are all part of what creates the tone of voice that Innocent has built up from its beginnings - back when the founders turned up at a music festival to ask the public to vote, by throwing cups into yes and no bins, on whether they should give up their day jobs and make smoothies full-time.
"Innocent has been held up for six years as a shining beacon of what a brand can do. The writing on the packaging is engaging and charming and makes you believe in them, and it has taught the marketing community what can be done in a different way," Ford says.
As a result, there have been copycats, but a large number of companies still fail to grasp the benefits of injecting a bit of personality into packaging. "There are loads of brands that are missing a trick. They need to engage you and make you feel like you're having a relationship," concludes Ford.