Head of creative at Innocent: social media means brands need to think like editors

27 Jan 2014

Dan Germain, creative director, Innocent Drinks

Brands need to become better at telling their own stories and need to think more like editors than simply curators, the creative director of Innocent Drinks Dan Germain told Siliconrepublic.com. His No 1 rule: keep it interesting.

Germain, who has been with Innocent since its inception, is noted for his quirky take on marketing and was in Dublin today to give a talk on how to be more creative in business.

He is currently driving the drinks brand’s #SpreadGood Twitter campaign aimed at setting off a ‘chain of good’, whereby people are inspired to perform good deeds.

An Innocent start

Three Cambridge graduates, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, set up Innocent in 1999 after spending stg£500 on fruit and six months researching smoothie recipes.

After selling their drinks at a London music festival they decided to remain in business after getting the public to vote by throwing their empty bottles into either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ bin.

The brand, which is now 90pc owned by Coca-Cola, sells more than 2m smoothies per week and donates 10pc of its profits to charity.

Begin with the truth

“The best way to run a brand is to simply tell the truth. I count myself as much of a consumer as the next man and when companies create an image that sits between the user and a product like the perfect car, the perfect home, most people don’t tend to believe it.”

Germain says he works with a creative team of 11 people, including a writer, and as far as social media goes, the important thing is to tell stories and speak with a genuine voice.

“When we launched Innocent, people in their 20s were terrible at getting fruit and veg into their lives. We grew our business through word of mouth and people believed it and trusted it. My job is relatively straightforward, I try and find people who speak with a genuine voice and tell stories about what we do.”

He adds that it is also about being realistic about who tells the stories.

“Am I the best person to befriend a social media-savvy 25-year-old? No, but the right person generating the right-sounding content would be.

“We’re still ultimately making the same product, talking to the same kind of people. Things have changed a lot since I was 25. But what hasn’t changed is our mission to make drinks that are healthy and tasty.

“When it comes to solving a problem we come at it from a DIY perspective – what would we do if we had no money? When we did our first festival in London, if we had more money we would have had more acts but then we would have felt like any other festival. We had very little money and our festival was slightly wonky, a little more real and as a result more charming.”

Part of the conversation with the audience, Germain says, is helping them to feel part of the conception of ideas for drinks. “We have an open-door policy and people can come into the office at any time of day to look around.”

Keep it interesting

You would think that a brand as well known as Innocent would be a shoe-in on any social network it chooses – Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook. But the way Germain explains it, there is only one rule: keep it interesting.

“We have a Pinterest presence that could grow but we don’t get distracted by arguments such as who has the most users, Twitter or Facebook? We fish where the fish are, we go to where the people are actually having conversations.

“Personally, I was quite early to Twitter, now everyone is there. We could just try pushing boring messages like ‘have you tried this new recipe?’ but frankly people aren’t on Twitter for that.

“On Twitter you are competing with the most interesting stuff in the world – literally you are competing against The Huffington Post.

“We ask ourselves constantly what do people like reading about, posting about and retweeting? Dumb photos, selfies, cute animals, weird stories, strange shaped fruit or a smattering of what’s going on in our lives?

“If you have mixture of that and a few bits people will want to read – you can’t really get any more scientific than that.”

Chain of good

So far, the Innocent Foundation has given more than stg£5m to charity, and as part of the effort to boost the #SpreadGood message, Innocent will be projecting people’s tweeted compliments onto Powerscourt Town Centre between 5pm and 9pm tonight.

Germain says Innocent was in the vanguard of a new generation of socially aware businesses where something can be given back to the community.

“I defy anyone to find anything manipulative about that.

“We’re part of a new breed of businesses that provide great jobs, make a profit out of generally great products and give something back. It’s another layer to what we do.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years