David Cameron (that’s the author of the On Brands blog, not the leader of the Conservative party!) posted an interesting question on LinkedIn the other day:
“Is the beloved Innocent Drinks company guilty of a bad brand move? Will the company’s new relationship with Coca-Cola backfire?”
I’ve written in the past about how pretty much everything you do as a business can have the power to enhance or erode your brand so, from that perspective, you’d probably expect me to say it is. After all, Coke’s reputation for CR, particularly in India, is not exactly stellar and certainly has the potential to tarnish Innocent’s ethical lustre.
Once again, though, the trusty MBA-grad’s all-purpose answer of, “it depends,” comes to the fore…
Whether or not it’s a bad move will ultimately depend on how hands-on Coke is in managing its investment. If it’s happy to let Innocent continue to produce the same products in the same way (as Innocent’s founders claim it is), I really can’t see the harm. All it will be doing is sharing its phenomenal knowledge and experience in marketing and distribution, enabling Innocent to spread its products (and its Gospel) to more people in more places, which I would’ve thought is a good thing.
The case of McDonald’s and Pret provides a useful parallel. Having studied Pret closely, as part of a major employer brand project a couple of years ago, I know that their employment offer came across as the very antithesis of the ‘McJob’.
True, there were rumours of McDonald’s seeking to move Pret to a more centralised model of food preparation and distribution, which, had it come to pass, would’ve blown a hole in a central pillar of Pret’s brand (the focus on fresh, safe, healthy food, prepared daily on the premises). But that didn’t happen, and there doesn’t seem to have been any damage caused to Pret by the association with McD’s.
Provided that Coke continues to let the Innocent guys do the Innocent thing, I can’t see any lasting damage to the Innocent brand either. It doesn’t make it any less authentic, other than among “No Logo” types for whom the very act of selling a stake to Coke is sacrilege, regardless of whether it leads to any material changes in how they do business.
Me? I’m perfectly happy to suspend judgement.