Not so innocent after all

I discovered this week that Coca Cola have just taken a further 58% stake in the ethically-minded smoothie company, Innocent. There has been much discussion online and off about this and other big corporate involvement in ‘cool’ businesses – in truth, it’s just the latest in a long line of businesses to take the corporate dollar to develop their share of the market.

There’s more of this going on than you think: Green & Blacks were snapped up by Cadbury’s (who in turn were bought by Kraft), Body Shop is now owned by L’Oreal and Pret a Manger is actually owned by MacDonalds.

So there’s a lot of it going on and I think the question for consumers is – does it really matter, and should we even care? The directors at Innocent think not and whilst they retain control of the business, it seems to me like they’re using the huge investment funding from Coca Cola to do what they’ve always wanted with their product range.

For me it has to come down to the fundamental issues of brand values and experience. Like it or not, we all have our own portfolio of brands that we trust around us in our day to day lives. If one of these brands is acquired by a new owner and fundamental brand experience stays the same or actually improves then our trust and belief in that brand will actually grow. If on the other hand, the reasons why we first bought into that brand in the first place change due to the pressures of big business, then that brand is in serious danger of losing its place in our personal brand world.

Personally, I have a lot of respect for a business that recognises that it might have to hand over a stake or even ownership in return for the wider distribution or development of what they are passionate about. The logistical advantage of a larger group is hard to turn down when all you competitors have that advantage too.

I think ultimately the problem some people have with brands like Innocent is that they’ve followed them since they were a small startup business and the reasons why they loved the company and the brand now seem diluted. It’s a bit like following an unsigned band to breaking the charts with their first album and before you know it, everyone likes them and suddenly, the reasons why you loved them (chiefly, no-one else did) have now vanished.

It feels like part of the natural cycle of brands – the challenger brands grow and become part of the mainstream and add vitality, energy and innovation where it’s needed and in turn new brands continue to feed into the chain and inspire the big brands. Of course, some brands stay where they are and have no desire whatsoever to grow, they just like doing what they do and that’s fine and some big brands just keep trundling on regardless.

So the question is – how would you feel if you’re favourite small brand was snaffled by the big boys? Pleased that at long last the niche brand you’ve raved about is going to get the exposure it deserves or disappointed that the brand you’ve recommended to all your friends has sold out?

2 thoughts on “Not so innocent after all

  1. This reminds me of the last time this was discussed, back when you raised it on the Thompson blog (I commented then, too) http://thompson.typepad.com/weblog/2009/04/not-so-innocent.html#comments

    My thoughts still stand from then – it’s not so much a case of whether selling out to a larger business is the issue, but to whom you’re selling out. You mention Body Shop being owned by L’Oreal. L’Oreal is also a quarter owned by Nestlé, which last time I looked was number 1 on the World Health Organisation’s list of unethical companies. So anyone who aligned themselves with the Body Shop brand based on their practices, couldn’t really do that anymore (unless they didn’t know about it).

    For Innocent to do more of what they’re doing by selling off more of their business to the Big Boys isn’t surprising in the slightest. And for the general public, they won’t notice a difference, so long as the product remains the same (or gets better), and the price doesn’t go up significantly. Would the general public actually care what the owners of the business actually do? Sadly, probably not.

    For Innocent, I think they’ve managed to penetrate the market to a significant enough degree to not sell themselves on the exact same principles as they once did.

    One thought – I wonder if the Banana Phone will be outsourced to an offshore call centre now 😉

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