Back in the 1980s, when the founders of Innocent Drinks were still in short trousers, there was a massively successful fruit drink brand called Snapple.
Snapple’s popularity was based on its use of natural ingredients and its quirky, homespun brand positioning (‘made from the best stuff on earth’).
In 1994, the brand was bought by Quaker for $1.7bn. They applied all their considerable marketing and manufacturing know-how to turn Snapple into a global leader – and, in the process, they nearly destroyed it. Because they’d completely missed the point.
The point was that people loved Snapple precisely because it wasn’t slick and efficient: it was quirky and charming and authentic. It was an anti-brand. As soon as it became just another big corporate money-maker, they deserted it in droves (former fan Howard Stern, the controversial and influential American DJ, began referring to it as ‘Crapple’ on air).
In 1997, Quaker offloaded Snapple for $300m. They’d spent three years and $1.4bn turning a distinctive and much-loved brand into just another product.
That’s the thing with authenticity. You can’t fake it.
Anita Roddick, the charismatic founder of the Body Shop, was once advised by her legal department to stop using the word ‘activist’, because people might associate it with terrorism. Her response was to use the word as often and as publicly as she could – she even launched a fragrance called Activist. As far as Roddick was concerned, active participation in causes and debate was an essential part of what made Body Shop what it was: she’d rather risk offending people than compromise her principles.
During the first Gulf War, Roddick sponsored an anti-war campaign (which, at the time, was a fairly unpopular position for anyone to adopt, let alone the CEO of a public corporation). She faced strong pressure from investors and her own marketing team, who were worried that her stance would damage public support for the brand.
Roddick opened the issue up to all Body Shop employees in a public debate. Had she lost, she would have stepped down. Fortunately for the business, she didn’t have to. Employees responded to her, because the principles Body Shop stood for mattered as much to them as they did to her.
How many CEOs would have the guts to do something they firmly believed was right, even when it would cost them sales and might cost them their job?
That’s what real authenticity looks like.