The ad in question featured an animation of characters singing a song “about our impending doom” before introducing the message “be kinder to our bodies with nature’s tasty food”

Innocent has been rapped by the ad watchdog for suggesting buying its drinks could have a positive impact on the environment.

An ad by the Coca-Cola-owned juices and smoothies brand was brought to the watchdog’s attention after 26 complainants, including a member of activist group Plastics Rebellion, claimed it had “exaggerated the total environmental benefit” of Innocent products in its adverts.

The ads in question – which ran on TV as well as YouTube and video on demand – featured an animation of characters singing a song “about our impending doom” before introducing the message “be kinder to our bodies with nature’s tasty food” alongside images of fruit being squeezed into an Innocent drinks bottle.

They ended with the tagline “Innocent. Little drinks with big dreams for a healthier planet”.

Innocent argued the ads “set out a purpose-led message, which invited consumers to join in on its journey of working towards a healthier planet” and that the brand “had environmental credentials, which gave it the standing to make that invitation”. 

It said there was “no suggestion in the ad through statements or imagery that purchasing Innocent products themselves would lead to a positive environmental impact” and that, were the complaint to be upheld, it could “stifle other brands and manufacturers from taking steps towards communicating information about positive environmental actions they were taking”.

The brand has indeed spent past years bolstering its sustainability credentials. Last month, for instance, it announced it had stregthened its B Corp score to 105.2 points. It plans to be carbon neutral by 2025 and to crack down on plastic in its supply chain by trialling a 50% plant plastic and 50% recycled plastic bottle.

However the ASA upheld the ruling. The watchdog said it had “considered that some consumers would interpret the ad simply to mean Innocent had made an aspirational commitment to doing their part to do better for the environment, or that the ad was a call to action for everyone more generally to do better for the planet”, but that others might take it to mean “that purchasing Innocent products was a choice which would have a positive environmental impact”.

“Because we considered that the ads would be understood to mean Innocent was environmentally-friendly and that purchasing their products had environmental benefits, we needed to see evidence that was the case,” it said.

“Although we acknowledged Innocent was undertaking various actions which were aimed at reducing the environmental impact of its products, that did not demonstrate its products had a net positive environmental impact over their full lifecycles.

“We also noted that their drinks bottles included non-recycled plastic and that the extraction of raw materials and subsequent processing of those materials in order to produce the bottle would have a negative impact on the environment.”

The ASA ruled the ads must not appear again in their current form as they had breached advertising guidelines, and told Innocent to ensure future ads made clear the basis of any environmental claims and “did not mislead as to the total environmental benefit of their products”.

An Innocent spokeswoman told The Grocer the brand was “disappointed to see the ruling from the ASA”.

“Our advert was always intended to highlight important global environmental issues and the need for collective action to make a change. We transparently share more about the work that we do on sustainability on our website. As with any new guidelines, we’d like to work with the ASA and other brands to understand how to align to them to continue the conversation on these important topics.’

The ruling showed the watchdog was “gunning for brands that make environmental claims that they consider are not fully justified or are not supported by robust evidence”, said Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, partner at law firm Lewis Silkin, adding it “serves as a warning to companies that the ASA will consider complaints not just from consumers but from campaign groups”.

“While it can be straightforward for a company to justify specific environmental claims, it is much riskier to create the impression that buying products that involve a significant amount of plastic - even recyclable plastic - would in some way be a positive choice for the environment.”