Three college guys bought a crate of fruit for £500 and started selling smoothies at a London festival, asking “should we quit our jobs?”. The answer became “YES”, and nine months later they sold their first drinks through their local café. They sold 24 drinks that day, but now – 10 years later – they sell two million drinks in one week.
How did they do it? They successfully built a brand community around their product, and gave their customers something to believe in. They named their smoothie Innocent, because it was natural, healthy and responsible. Being local and privately owned, Innocent played the role of David versus Goliath. They set out to explore sustainable capitalism by donating 10 percent of all profits to charity. Once a year they invite their tribe to Fruit Towers to hang out, try new drinks and eat lot's of cake.
In May 2009 Coca Cola purchased a share of Innocent for £30m. Coca Cola did not only purchase corporate responsibility, but also... a tribe with strong identity, stories and rituals. Now the ritual of sipping an Innocent, will never be the same again. The story of David and Goliath has been altered, and lost it's potency. The powerful identity of the Innocent tribe has been shattered.
To put it short – Coca Cola brings to Innocent everything which it is not. In the realm of the Innocent story, the enemy has invaded.
Innocent's yearly pow-wow “The innocent AGM (A grown-up meeting)” devoted a lot of energy to responding to hard-pressed questions about Coca Cola. Customers shared their disappointment on the Innocent blog, and Twitter. Facebook groups sprouted in protest such as Innocent Smoothies - give back Coca-Cola's dirty money, (Reluctantly) Boycott Innocent Smoothies!, Get Coke out of Innocent Smoothies, Shame on 'Innocent' for selling out to Coca Cola.
This is what some of their (former) fans are saying:
Coke's entry = the end of the fairytale.NOW welcome in the business world.what a shame"
Coca Cola and Innocent are walking a tight-rope in this tribal identity crisis. The stories and rituals have lost some of their meaning. It is evident that the owners of Innocent ditched their tribal devotees which once helped them become successful.
Innocent supports many tribes ranging from knitting, to ecology, and health. But... can Innocent reliably support these tribes under the wing of Coca Cola? Does the Innocent and Coca Cola story mix?
Was this a smart move by Innocent? How will this play out? Are there any risks involved? What do you think?