Lots has been written about the selling out of around 20% of Innocent to Coca-Cola for £30m.

I found this on the internet which is prototype for their new line “Not so” innocent. Click on it to read the text – I love the “We sold out 20% of our company, and 100% of our values. We’re working on the rest!” OUCH! Their faux, down to earth copy has always grated on me so I enjoyed this label.

Given they have positioned themselves as “innocent” and “pure” then selling out to a major multi-national who makes highly calorific and artificial drinks is somewhat of an interesting move. Many of their consumers clearly feel let down. It is worth reading David Taylor’s Brandgym blog entry on the issue which makes this point well. They have destroyed a significant basis of trust in their brand and ethics of their company.

Whether you agree or disagree with their decision it is clearly a PR disaster which they have seemingly managed poorly. Despite the acres of comment they have not been actively defending their decision which is strange because they are good at managing positive PR – maybe in their hearts they know they have sold out. You can read their letter on the Innocent website.

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

“Basically, we’re dead excited about the investment. The funds raised allow us to do more of what innocent is here to do – get natural, healthy stuff out to as many people as possible. And the money raised is going into the business to fund our European expansion, so we can get innocent out to more places (none of the cash is being paid out to the shareholders; that desert island will just have to wait).

The three of us who set up the business will continue to run and manage innocent. We will be the same people making the same products in the same way. Everything that innocent stands for, remains in place – to only produce natural, healthy stuff; to push hard for better quality, more socially and environmentally conscious ingredients; to find more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of producing and packaging our drinks; to support charities in the countries where our fruit comes from; to have a point of view on the world, and to not take ourselves too seriously in the process. In fact, this deal will simply allow us to do more of these things.”

Apart from that ingratiating tone, the thing that I think the founders don’t get is that in many ways their decision to take Coca-cola money changes our perception of them fundamentally. They might be the “same people making the same products” but whereas we all thought before they were a values led company that had set out on a mission to be (almost) an “anti-Coke”, we now see a more accurate view of their motivations and how far their principles and values go. And unfortunately whilst we are left with a more accurate view of the “same people”, its not what they set out to convince us they were and that’s disappointing. We feel misled, and let down. Ultimately I want to know the truth about people and hold accurate perceptions so I feel better that I know that Innocent is not as innocent as they purport to be – it probably won’t stop me buying their drinks but will make it a less satisfying purchase and opens up the way for a company who really “walks the talk” to steal my purchase from Innocent.

Feel free to share, tweet, follow and comment.

Have fun.