Hats off to Innocent Drinks – lessons from their Marketing Playbook

Published: February 20, 2023

min read

“Little hats – big difference”

That’s how the Home Page of Innocent Drinks reads, the line sitting on top of a row of little brightly colored quirky hats on bottles!

What they do – Innocent Drinks has volunteers knit or crochet these tiny hats – every single one of them is handmade (they have patterns / instructions how to make these on their website). These adorable hats are put on top of each of their bottles and sold. And for every bottle sold, 25p is given to Age UK, a charity for older people.

They have been doing this since 2003, raising almost three billion pounds so far, for Age UK.

A little bit of history / background – Innocent Drinks was started by three young Cambridge grads, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright in 1998 with an aim to make money at music festivals. They decided to make smoothies entirely from fresh natural fruit without relying on preservatives or cheaper concentrates. And they said that they would give 10% of their profit to charity.

It was a long, hard road from a small kitchen in shared house to selling 20,00,000 smoothies being sold in supermarkets every week today. While starting out, they pooled in their savings and maxed out their credit cards – now 90% of the company’s stakes are owned by Coca Cola.

Now 25 years later, the brand is hugely successful, and the three Cambridge buddies are still on the Board. Their net worth is around $500 million. The vision remains the same.

What marketers can learn from the Little Hats

Creating a great Brand image is important – when anyone thinks of Innocent Drinks, they think of a healthy, environment-conscious, creative and vibrant brand. It is about fruit and the occasional vegetable. They are committed to recycling. They are creative in their approach to marketing their brand. And they come across as a fun, vibrant, creative brand. What’s not to like?

Keep a finger on your collective audience pulse – when your audience leans towards a healthier lifestyle, you lean in as well. Innocent Drinks quickly introduced a non-dairy line of smoothies, cereal toppings, coconut water and veggies into their product offerings to suit the taste of their millennial audiences. They actually say that you can tick off one of your five daily portions of fruit and veggies. And they clearly vocalize their commitment to recycling.

Be creative in your approach – When the three Cambridge grads first thought of the idea of selling smoothies at a music festival, they also decided to test their idea. So (what a great idea!) outside their booth selling smoothies, they had two gigantic trash bins labeled “yes” and “no” under a banner that read “Should we give up our jobs to make smoothies full time?”

Think out of the box or pull something out of your hat – there are several things that make the Little Hats campaign a winner –

Community involvement – the tiny hats are knitted by volunteers in the community. There are reports of a couple of celebrities who have sent in their knitted or crocheted work. There are simple and complex patterns to choose from – the end result is a matter of pride for the ones making them. Definite to hit social media! Word of mouth will definitely happen.

Once a person buys a smoothie with a hat, customers are asked to take pictures of them holding the hat on top of someone or something, so it looks like they are wearing the hat – or doing something fun with the hat and upload on their website. Every uploaded picture will contribute 10p to age UK! That’s not all - Voting happens (again a community thing) and the three most popular ideas of the year, win! The 3 best entries per week also win boxes of smoothies.

Contribution to Charity – people with their hearts in the right place will not hesitate to donate to charity. And a product with a promise to donate some of its cost to charity is a winner.

Winter months are cold in the UK – not a great time for smoothie sales. By introducing this amazing Little Hat idea (it happens only in the winter months), Innocent Drinks is sure of sales. The whole campaign has a most adorable fun, almost festive feel that will surely draw people in and get them involved. The tiny hats look great on the bottles of smoothies, making them stand out among all the other bottled drinks. All in all, Innocent Drinks has managed to make the Little Hats campaign iconic.

Hats off to their creativity in making this happen!


Grace Wang

Grace is an advertising professional who keeps abreast of the latest and greatest in the marketing and advertising space. She is a traditionalist in lifestyle and modernist in her profession. Outside of marketing and advertising, she helps younger generation try and adapt traditional lifestyle for a healthy living.


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