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Building your content confidence with Innocent's John Thornton

Watch the replay and read the summary blog of our workshop with Innocent Drinks' Social Media Manager, John Thornton.

Sophie Thompson
16th September 2021

Being risky on social media in any industry can feel daunting, but if there's one brand that's totally nailed it - it's Innocent Drinks. They've built their entire personality online around being reactive, cheeky, funny...and letting the products sell themselves!

But just where do they get their content confidence? Social mastermind John Thornton talked us their channels in a workshop that explored the secrets behind the brand.

Watch the full replay below or keep scrolling for the summary:

"Innocent have been social long before social media existed"

In this quote, John is talking about the brand's initial approach of having fun and being inventive with the labels on their drinks, as well as the way they encourage their audience to get in touch through non-digital channels, like visiting the HQ or calling the famous banana phone.

Fast forward a few years, and their current, bold approach to social media content has generated a whopping 215% ROI. And they rarely mention their product. Pretty amazing, right?

Let's take a look at how they do it...

John breaks down Innocent's approach to content in 3 key areas:

Entertain - If you're a fun brand (a great example is the TV channel Dave), you want to translate that into your social media personality

Inspire - Encourage people to take an action! Not only on your own content, but inspire other brands to follow your lead when it comes to content. The Facebook page 'Tasty' pioneered top-down recipe videos that you've definitely seen on 50 other pages since

Inform - Monzo are John's favorite brand for this type of content (watch the replay of our webinar with them if you haven't already!) as they make traditionally 'drier' topics, such as finance, fun and engaging for their young target audience.

A potty example...

We of course know how Innocent do all of the above, but John translated it into an example of a fictional toilet brush company and the approach he would take there. Because not everyone's brands are as fun as Innocent. Plus, no one goes on Instagram to see toilet brush ads. Dogs are your biggest competition.

Some of John's finest ideas included...


  • Rating toilets around the country

  • A stand-up vs sit-down wiper debate

  • Running water sound videos to help people pee


  • Bathroom decor inspiration

  • Interesting articles to read while you're on the toilet


  • Cleaning hacks

  • Health warnings

The 'bottom' line of this point is that if people find something funny, they'll share it. If people find something useful, they'll share it. If people are inspired by something, they'll share it.

The key question is why would someone want to follow you and what makes your content shareable?

Not many people will want to stay up to date with the latest toilet-cleaning innovations, but because of your personality or what you represent as a brand.

Tone of voice vs personality


Spoiler alert: Innocent always choose personality over tone of voice. You can bend and break your tone of voice, whereas personality is the angle you take.

Innocent have both a strong brand personality and a unique tone of voice, which is a very powerful combination. But John recommends that when you need to choose between the two, personality conquers (or conkers, for those of you in the know) tone of voice every time.

Screenshot 2021-09-16 at 14.23.30

John's top tips for creating a killer personality on social:

  • Have emotions and opinions! You don't need to weigh-in on politics, but if it's national potato day, you could definitely rank every type of potato from best to worst.

  • Reply to everyone! They pay your wages so it only seems fair.

Planned vs unplanned content

While John comes up with a lot of Innocent's content 10 seconds before it gets posted (that's some serious trust!), they of course still plan for big national days using a key dates calendar.

That being said, their approach to being more human and natural comes from that off-the-cuff content that happens...when it happens! Look at trending topics every day and see how you can turn that into a piece of content for your brand.

Innocent's golden rule for content: If you're 70% sure it'll work, go for it!

By building trust with senior leaders, John can tweet freely late at night with zero sign-off. He's been at Innocent a number of years and hasn't gotten fired something must be working, right? The rewards outweigh the risks and the overall content confidence and alignment that the brand has, means that mishaps can be quickly managed if/when they do occur.

Innocent's best piece of unplanned content:

Screenshot 2021-09-16 at 14.26.14

Innocent get over a million impressions per episode from their live-Great British Bake Off tweets alone - and it has absolutely nothing to do with smoothies!

....Things do still go wrong!

John is by no means suggesting you spend your time posting the first thing that pops into your brain on social (imagine the trouble that could cause) but, one of the reasons that approach works for Innocent is because they are not only great at coming up with ad-hoc content, they're also great at handling the situation when things go wrong...because they will! We're all human.

We would recommend, however, that you follow our new Confessions of a Content Marketer Instagram account, where we post the stories of the mistakes content marketers everywhere have made that will make you cringe...until you remember you've done it too.

Introducing: Conkergate

"Some of our best days on Twitter have been when stuff has gone wrong"

After jokingly adding 'conker milk' to their new dairy-free range before discovering conkers are actually poisonous, Innocent got themselves out of hot water in the best way possible. Despite being threatened with lawsuits.


Firstly, and most obviously, They issued a clear, on-brand apology and witty clarification to make it abundantly clear that they were not releasing the Conker milk as a product. Once that was out of the way, they decided to take their mistake and have some good, old fashioned, Innocent fun with it.


Their self-deprecating approach to an apology immediately distracted their audience from what they'd actually done wrong - because it's rare to see a brand own it!

In fact, it made a great PR piece because searches for conker milk seriously took off. Despite it not being a real thing.

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This incident not only resonates with fans of Innocent years later, but it generated more impact than the original campaign had in the first place.

Words of content wisdom from John: "Post stuff people want to read, and then they will read the stuff about whatever it is you're trying to sell"

How to get senior leaders' trust for fun content

We get it! Not everyone will have the relationship with their boss that John does, which means content can often feel restrictive. Want to work towards it?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Is silly the right approach for you? John's short answer is yes!

  • Why not test a more informal approach on a less essential platform first such as Instagram Stories or TikTok? Perhaps go less ad-hoc and plan something around a key date.

  • Research where being silly has worked for other brands in your space and see how you can learn from their successes

The best 'serious' brands who are great at being fun on social (and adding a human element to their personality!):

  • Doncaster Council

  • Greggs

  • Monzo

  • Weetabix

  • Christian Aid

  • NHS

John's key takeaways:

  1. Figure out the one key message you want to drill into people's brains, and then have fun with it

  2. You don't have to directly talk about your product to become memorable to people - they want to know there is a human behind a brand

  3. Don't eat conkers

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