PITCH: Innocent?

The creative pitch: Companies invite agencies to present creative proposals on how to improve their marketing and therefore their bottom line. Best proposal wins.
For a start, clients run only one campaign for every 16 they are presented in pitches.
(Thanks Martin Jones, AAR Guru & Brighton fan.)
How can it be that fifteen of the sixteen agencies get the brief so wrong that they end up throwing their time, energy a work in the bin?
Because, as I’m often told, clients aren’t looking for a solution, they’re looking for partners to help find a solution with them.
If you’re in the client relationships bit of an agency, it makes total sense, in the departments that come up with solutions, not so much.
Because in the strategic or creative departments you wander around thinking what the hell can we say to transform this business?
The people who are good tend to worry about it, they don’t dash off an idea then pop to the Ivy for a celebratory glass of fizz, they pace around thinking ‘It can’t be done, it can’t be done, it can’t be done’ until at some point, like a miracle, they think ‘Oh…this might work?’
So when you’re pacing around and someone wants to talk about the Here’s some of the advice on the softer issues I’ve been given by the people who know pitching best:
‘Remember, James Murphy always pours the tea…and sometimes he’ll even sit on the table next to the clients…it says – I’m just one of the guys’.
‘Agency X win so much because they’re normal, not super clever, so they’re not threatening to clients.’ 
‘You take too many notes in chemistry meetings, it looks like you’re not interested, always keep eye contact with the clients’.
‘Johnny Hornby has nicknames for everyone, he’ll be like ‘Hey Jenksy, pass the milk’ and ‘Hey Boffo tell them your thought on whatever…it makes them feel like a gang, it creates a very matey vibe.’
‘Here’s a little tip, Agency X always does it; ask the clients how their journey there was, it’s a great ice-breaker, it shows empathy.’
Pure gold, right? (If that doesn’t improve your pitch conversion rate nothing will.)
You’re then faced with a choice: ignore the advice and feel guilty or adopt it and feel fake.
Unfortunately, I’m generally too anxious about solving the clients problem to remember to ask them their star sign or favourite Kardashian.
This was reflected in Campbell Doyle Dye’s pitch conversion rate.
So once, with Innocent Smoothies, I tried to be less solution-obsessed.

At BMP/DDB in the late nineties, everyone’s favourite account man was a handsome young dude called Richard Reed.
Charismatic, energetic, clever, persuasive, it was assumed he’d be running the place before long.
Then, one day he comes into Sean and I’s office ‘I’ve resigned!’.
It was a bombshell; ‘Where are going?’
‘Nowhere, I’m starting a company with my mates from Uni’.
‘Doing what?’
‘Don’t know yet, BMP are letting us use an office upstairs for the next three to work out what’.
What an idiot!
(Also, damn! Who’s going to sell our VW ads now?)
Every few weeks I’d get an update ‘don’t know yet’.
About ten weeks in; Bingo! ‘We’re just going to crush fruit and put it in little bottles!’
Jesus! That took ten weeks? Ok.
‘Can you think of any names, we’ve got one but we’re not sure…Innocent.’
Me: ‘Too twee’.
A week later I suggest ‘What about “No!” It’s odd, sounds a bit New Yorky and links in because, y’know, it’s got no this, no that, etc…just fruit… squashed into bottles…better than ‘Innocent’?’

‘I like, let’s test it’.
The sheer lack of bottles of NO on your local shelves will tell you it didn’t win, ‘a very close second!’.
I then watched as Innocent became one of the most successful brands around.
First, Richard Flintham & Andy McLeod’s bin idea: Bins at a Festival taste testing below a sign saying ‘Should we quit our jobs and start this company? (Empties in appropriate bin)’.
On one bin was written ‘Yes’, on the other ‘No’.
People still talk about that today.
Richard & Andy’s brand new start-up, Fallon, were appointed to work on the brand, paid in little bottles of squashed fruit.
They did some great work.
This is my favourite:

Innocent then got a friend, Dan Germain, to write the copy for them, particularly on their bottles.
It was great, charming, irreverent and funny, it totally defined the brand.
Before long other marketing directors were either talking about or copying it.

Then, I started spotting vans driving around London covered in grass.

Little knitted hats started appearing on their bottles in my local shop.

In short, they created a brand.
One of the most influential marketing brands in the last 20 years.
Who knew?

‘Innocent to pitch’ Campaign said.

I’d loved the Fallon work and had seen the brand grown nothing to famous.
I wrote Richard a letter, essentially telling he was being daft, (again), I laid out exactly why he’d be mad to part with Fallon.
Ring-Ring, Ring-Ring: ‘Love the letter, it’s the best new business approach I’ve ever received, you should pitch.”
Clever fucker.
I was recommending that he stay with Fallon, but I was also aware that there may be a reason that he couldn’t or didn’t want to, regardless of what they’d done, but didn’t expect to be called out on it though.
“Er…well….it wasn’t…yeah…ok.”
We go to Fruit Towers to get briefed, it wasn’t as tall or fruity as the name suggested, it was a nondescript trading estate behind Shepherds Bush. But the Innocent part was very on brand, messages and jokes everywhere.
Amongst the parking spaces in the front, was painted ‘Golf’, making fun of the ubiquity of that particular VW model at the time.
Words were painted above every door and window on the front of the building – ‘Customers’, ‘Deliveries’, ‘Burglars’, etc.
Inside, the humour continued, in the lab the white coats had names embroidered on like ‘Top Banana’.
What struck me was not that all of these ideas were amazing, but they’d all been executed, effort and cash had made them happen.
Lot’s of people suggest funny things ‘we should do’ in the office, few actually do it.
We get to the end of the tour, Richard asks ‘Any questions?’.
‘Yes…How do we win?’ I ask.
There’s a bit of laughter as this is seen as cheeky, or even cheaty, then Richard answers ‘Collaborate’.

CDD had been on a bad run on pitches, I figure that Innocent, one of the most talked about brands of the time, would really hep us.
So if collaboration is what it takes to win we’ll collaborate as much as humanly possible.
I offer present creative work to Innocent at the end of every day for the next two weeks. Like one, long continuous tissue meeting.

BRIEF: ‘There are a lot of people moving into this market, it’s all about branding, we need “
SOLUTION: We need a branded line, like those old GGT ads, where the name and line are one.
LINE: Innocent, as the name suggests.

FEEDBACK: ‘Doesn’t feel like us, too name focussed, we have a point of difference: our smoothies are 100% natural.’
SOLUTION: Let’s talk about what’s in the bottles, but not in a worthy way.
LINE: Innocent. 100% natural, cross our heart and hope to die.

FEEDBACK: ‘Too London, we need to explain to housewives in Leeds what a smoothie is, it’s natural, good for you, good for your insides.’
SOLUTION: Smoothies are simply squashed up fruit and that’s good for your body.
LINE: Innocent. Cleanse yourself with squashed up fruit.

‘Squashed up fruit is just so generic, we need  something branded, own-able.”
SOLUTION: We need a branded line, like those old GGT ads, where the name and line are one.
LINE: Innocent by nature.

FEEDBACK: ‘Quite like the line, but we need a bigger idea, what if we open gyms? Retreats?’
SOLUTION: Innocent is a well-being company, they are all about your health.
LINE: Innocent. The Natural Health Service.
FEEDBACK: ‘I like it, the thing is…some parts of the country still don’t even know what smoothies are…I think we need to tackle that first.’
SOLUTION: Drinks that are good for you, almost the anti-alcohol.
LINE: Innocent. Drink Responsibly.

FEEDBACK: ‘No, no, no….we don’t want to be linked to alcohol, we’re innocent, fruit, we’re good.’
SOLUTION: Innocent fruit is good, like the goody-goody in a class full of bad foods.
LINE: Innocent. Made from thoroughly good fruit.

SOLUTION: Double entendres, but the fruit is so innocent it doesn’t even get the other meaning.
LINE: Unashamedly Innocent.

FEEDBACK: ‘Wow! Way too childish…and weird, it’s £2 a bottle, it’s not a kids drink.’
SOLUTION: Relate Innocent Smoothies to what people do in their lives.
LINE: Innocent. Fruit. That’s all folks.

FEEDBACK: ‘One of the competitors is getting a bit of traction, we’re so much better, more natural than them, maybe we should call them out?”
SOLUTION: Let’s point out that Innocent are just fruit, others, like PJs, use fruit concentrate.
LINE: Innocent. Fruit. That’s all folks.

FEEDBACK: ‘We shouldn’t knock, it doesn’t feel Innocent, we’re a positive, upbeat brand.
Our thing is that we’re natural…and what’s better than nature?’
SOLUTION: Mother Nature is against the unnatural, but she’s not gentle, she’s forceful and a bit scary.
LINE: Innocent. We don’t mess with Mother Nature.

FRIDAY FEEDBACK: ‘Mmm…What drugs were you lot on?…it’s quite simple, we need to tell people who don’t know what smoothies are that it’s just crushed fruit.’

SOLUTION: Unusual ways of squashing fruit.
LINE: Innocent. We just squash fruit.

SOLUTION: Maybe we show Innocent replacing fruit?
Innocent. Technically, it’s a fruit.

SOLUTION: We spoof the famous ‘Man From Delmonte’ campaign.
LINE: The man from Innocent, he say ‘No!’.

FEEDBACK: ‘No, no, no, we’ve got to explain what smoothies are to people who don’t know.’

SOLUTION: Ok, let’s cut thew bullshit, let’s tell it like it is; really sweet tasting drinks that are good for you as stuff that doesn’t taste nice.
LINE: Innocent. Where ‘good for you’ meets ‘Mmm, yummy’.

FEEDBACK: ‘I like it…a lot…but no.’ 

(Note to self: Don’t be so bloody collaborative next time.)

We’ve zig-zagged all over the place for the last two weeks, we’re probably less clear now than we were when we started.
We have a mountain of rejected work.
Much of which was liked, none of which was bought.

I pin all the liked stuff on the wall; there’s no thru-line, it’s all over the map.
It’s a shame to throw such a lot of creative work in the bin.

I have an idea; Let’s at least remind the fuckers that we did such a lot of work and were pulled all over the place, let’s put it all in a book.
It could be a kind of how we got here, our ‘working out’, we can pretend that all that zigzagging was positive and lead to our new creative recommendation.
It’s half-true.

Maybe we could pick out all the ideas that were liked in blue, to remind them that they liked a lot of stuff.
We’ll hand them out at the beginning of the pitch.


So what is our creative recommendation?
With only days to go we are nowhere.
I try to clear my head, forget everything we’ve done over the last two weeks and think about what I think Innocent stands for.
I make some decisions:

DECISION 1: The bottle is brand.
It’s essence.
The part that the consumers engage with most.
And like.
They not only like the content of the bottles, they love the tone and irreverence of the bottles.
So let’s make our work like the bottles.

DECISION 2: The tone should come from the bottles; Upbeat, funny, irreverent, human and positive almost naive.

DECISION 3: The look should come from the bottles; Simple, minimal, word lead.
Cartoons, illustrations and imagery don’t feel like the bottle, so let’s not use them.

DECISION 4: The bottles talk specifics, they’re straight talking and piss-taking: Big theoretical brand ideas, like ‘The Natural Health Service’ feel too airy-fairy, let’s keep it grounded.

DECISION 5: The bottles use irreverent small print; Let’s use irreverent small print on our ads.

DECISION 6: Our campaign line will be ‘Innocent by nature.’
It’s simple; only 3 words, contains the brand name, says natural and doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard.

DECISION 7: The obligatory mood board.

We set about repurposing and rewriting.

It was tricky to represent the bottle in film.
How do we  capture that upbeat, funny, irreverent, human, positive, naive, dare I say it, ‘innocent’ vibe?
And do it in a visually distinctive way that stands out?
We settle on an old style of animation called ‘boiling’, made famous by Bob Godfrey in the 1970s with this tv series.

It avoids feeling slick and advertisingy.
It’ll add charm to our commercials that explain what smoothies are and why Innocent smoothies are better than the competition.


The pitch goes brilliantly well, they seem to love the work.

We didn’t win, but, and here’s the good news; we were a ‘very close second’. Hurrah!

I was told a few months later that the C.E.O. of the winning agency had offered their services free for the first year and start cycling to work everyday.
Who knows whether this is true?
(No, seriously, who knows if this is true, comment.)

Weirdly, the new work used the line we’d recommended.

That can happen, it’s not like it’s the most left-field thought.

The new tv ads had a very similar structure and low-tech charm to our recommendation.

Well, I guess that’s not some kind of unique recipe we whipped up.

The print used the small print from the bottles, like we’d suggested.
Well, we didn’t invent that, we took it from their bottles.

We’d presented the line ‘Nothing but nothing but fruit’.

Well, it’s true, it’s a fact, it is nothing but nothing but fruit.

For a couple of years afterwards, every time I saw an Innocent ad I’d see remnants or ‘echoes’ of our pitch.
Were we being ripped off or because we’d covered so much of the map that others were bound to wander into the same locations?
Who knows?

In conclusion, I have two pieces of advice when pitching:

1. Never give the client a handy pocket-sized book stuffed with thousands of free ideas in, they may use them.

2. When a prospective client walks into the room, ask ‘How was the journey here?’.
It’s good ice-breaker.



17 responses to PITCH: Innocent?

  1. seba wilhelm says:

    great post dave. I’ve always thought innocent was an amazing brand lacking amazing advertising. It’s the only thing i’ve never quite liked about innocent to this day.

  2. Mick G says:

    You got done like a kipper.

    You also got done like a kipper off them dried fruit people.

    Conclusion: Fruit brands, iffy fuckers.

  3. Keith Bickel says:

    Dave, I’m saddened you didn’t win. (But gladdened I made the mood board – Ecover/ Mermaid 😉 x

    • Jonathan Sant says:

      This doesn’t surprise me. When I was at Pulse some btw work for This Water who were connected to Innocent and saw our ideas on display as OOH without our permission or knowledge. Innocent my arse.

  4. Kev Darton says:

    Hi Dave. This is a fantastic insight! I teach on the Creative Advertising degree at University of Central Lancashire and loved being able to take the students through this post step-by-step. They were hanging on your every (virtual) word as they wondered what the next day would reveal and it opened up lots of discussion and questions about ideas generation, pitching, work ethic and collaboration.

    We’d love to invite you up here in person one day. Thank you so much for sharing.


  5. Neville says:

    Remember their festival, Fruitstock? We were asked to pitch for that. Decided to go left field, suggest something else entirely as we felt Fruitstock (in its 3rd year by this point) had run its course.

    We presented the Innocent Village Fete, a big event with the tone and feel of an old school village event hosted on the the village green.

    We came second, such a close second. And then 6 months later, they literally rolled out our entire campaign and launched the Innocent Village Fete.

    We approached them, said we were delighted that they clearly liked our idea so much and did they want us to be involved in bringing the event to life or to help them with future projects. They threatened us with a lawsuit if we ever claimed the idea as ‘ours’ as the pitch terms included signing over all rights to them.

    TLDR; the drink was Innocent, the people who worked there were a bunch of c*nts

  6. AV says:

    The old punk maxim to never trust a hippy never fails. Nor engaging with anyone/thing having to work hard at being nice. Start with why…is this bastard after something off me?
    Obviously, the Innocent’s infantilisation of language and copy that grew like Japanese knotweed they’ve a place in marketing hell, but for a bunch of ex ad-folk and management consultants who worked with the best clients like VW for good practice behaving in such a manner is unforgiveable.

  7. Tadas says:

    That is a remarkable story. What an interesting approach from a client; you ask many agencies to pitch, select the best ideas for free, and give them to execute to the cheapest agency. Win-win. Except not for agency.

  8. Simon says:

    Thank you for a fantastically insightful (and nostalgic) half hour. It’s not often that a case study is such a page turner! Sorry it wasn’t a happy ending. Or maybe it was. Who the hell can afford to work for free for a year?

  9. George P says:

    I was on the team that won the pitch. My recollections are a little hazy – I’ve pitched Innocent about five times in my life.

    We also did a lot of work. Not as much as you guys, admittedly but some significant paper was covered. And much of the work was good.

    But I’d say, as you suggest, that we won the pitch because of the relationship between our charismatic leader and theirs. Promises were made about carbon neutrality, bicycles, tree hugging and knitting hats for grannies. There was a mutual love-in, meeting of minds etc.

    Dan came in to work with us. Mostly on other briefs we had going on. A bit like work experience. He’s an old mate. Probably because of all the times I’ve pitched it.

    I think that ‘Nothing but nothing but fruit’ was settled on after the pitch, so your theory could easily be correct. It came from our boss as a fait accompli.

    Johnny and I ended up making a nice January Advent Calendar, which I know came from our own pens.

    My favourite Innocent idea that I ever pitched them was from my R/GA days. We said they should get out there and have a positive voice on the issues of the day, campaign a bit and stick their head above the parapet. Ditch the cuddly stuff.

    ‘Fruit Fighters’ was the idea and line. Lovely Michael Russoff wrote a pitch film for it. I’ll see if I can dig it out and stick it on Vimeo.

    It turned out they were in the process of selling to McDonald’s and the last thing they wanted to do was stick heads above parapets. Richard Reed seemed particularly angst-ridden at that moment in time. I guess selling out does that to you.

    Pitching Innocent was always a colossal waste of time IMHO. They liked to write their own ads. ‘Collaboration’ was their word for it. It felt a bit like pitching Warburton’s. You just knew Jonathan Warburton wouldn’t buy anything that didn’t star him.

    Sad really. The Fallon stuff was the only work that had any teeth. Great post, Dave, as ever.

    • dave dye says:

      Hey George, nice to hear from you and thanks for the comment; almost as long as my post.
      It’s interesting to hear your experience.
      Have you never heard that phrase that starts ‘Fool me once…’? Five times?
      I guess the point of my post wasn’t to beat up on Innocent, Richard, Lowes, etc, just to lay out what happened, in my opinion, and at the end of the day the people who are most at fault are the clown who decided to go all in on this collaboration thing, the jellyfish who didn’t call out the client for flip-flopping on the brief daily and the nutter who handed over a thousand free ads in a handy pocket-sized book; all me.
      p.s. Love to see the ‘Fruit Fighters’ film, sounds interesting.

  10. Richard Mosley says:

    dare I say you were too innocent and success is seldom that way inclined. Nevertheless – total respect for sharing your work. Total genius.

  11. Adrian Langford says:

    Felt exhausted following the ‘collaborative’ ads and feedback. Heaven knows what it was like to create the work. I was simultaneously gobsmacked by your dedication as an advertising archivist, and by Innocent’s not so innocent behaviour. Course I’d heard the rumours.

    • dave dye says:

      Hey Adrian, good to hear from you, yep, it was a journey.
      It’s easy in retrospect, obviously, but if I’d done what you aren’t supposed to in pitches; take a position and stick to it, I’d have increased our chances of winning.
      Although few do that in a pitch and no-one will advise you to do it.
      My feeling is most clients, like most people are a bit insecure about whether the know the answers, so want people who are confident that they have a solution, not people who’ll do whatever you say.

  12. Paul says:

    Loved the article, I feel your pain.

    My agency worked with Innocent 10 years ago, they bought a small BTL campaign from us for trade press, then used it ATL through out all the major metropolitan areas, bus shelters, 48 sheets, tube posters, the lot.

    When confronted with this they refused to pay their bills and said ‘what are you going to do about it’. Horrid people.

    The moral of the story… anything but Innocent.

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