Being ‘Innocent’ is all well and good but sometimes you just need to grow up. Type the name of what must be this country’s most visibly branded “ethical” company into a search engine and you’d be excused for feeling just a little patronised: ‘Hello’ reads the Google intro for innocentdrinks.co.uk, ‘we make lovely natural fruit drinks like pure fruit smoothies and fresh yoghurt thickies. Everything we produce tastes good and does you good’. It’s not an unusual angle in the current advertising climate: the latest TV spot from Head & Shoulders is hateful for a variety of reasons (see below, and make up your own mind) but not least for its coo-cooingly condescending take-home line, ‘Seven fresh fragrances, so happy nose; and our anti-dandruff ingredient, so happy head. Head & Shoulders, making heads happier.’ Mobile companies have patented a distinctive twee aesthetic over the last half-decade, since T-Mobile’s prototypical ‘U-Fix’ ad. The general tone of advertising has become regressive; it’s hard not to look back to a film like Guinness’s ‘Waves’ spot of 1998, voted the best advert of all time, and feel a pang for the way it addressed you like a grown-up (although I realise this was in no way typical – that’s why it’s so celebrated).
Worse than this, though, is that Innocent now seem to have set an agenda for ‘ethical’ products – their bottles are made wholly from recycled plastic, their drinks provide more nutrition than your average soft drink (despite dubious ‘superfood’ claims), they are affiliated with various charities – to be similarly packaged in infantile branding. I’m not suggesting that Innocent should publicise their concern for and action on issues social, nutritional, and environmental in a more solemn way – these are tough issues, but tough doesn’t really work in advertising. Rather, I am worried about Innocent’s pivotal role in the general presentation of green living as some sort of kiddy-arcadia of daisies and bean-bags (see Innocent’s London offices), and middle-class white people drinking fairtrade yerba mate in fairy-lit yurts.
These thoughts were intensified when I visited the Design Museum’s ‘Sustainable Futures’ exhibition, which runs until the 5th of September. Here were some seriously good examples of socially-conscious sustainable design, from Mathieu Lehanneur and Anthony van den Boscche’s fascinating “fish-farm-cum-kitchen-garden” ‘Local River’ to Schlaich Bergermann und Partner’s ‘Solar Updraft Tower’ to a display on the Brazilian city of Curitiba, by all accounts the most eco-friendly city in the world. The tone of the exhibition was just right: responsible without being preachy, serious without being solemn, hopeful and futuristic, the show’s curators appear conscious of the fact that creating ‘Innocent’ products might require a mindset of Experience.
by Luke Healey