Not So Innocent Little Hats

Innocent Smoothies run an annual campaign where they ask knitters to make little hats to go on top of smoothie bottles. In return they donate 25p for each hat to Age UK. In case anyone doesn’t know Innocent are owned by Coca Cola – a huge multinational company with profits in the billions each year.

Let me start by saying that I think businesses donating to charities is a fantastic thing. Age UK seems like a great charity.

So what’s my problem?

There are lots of things wrong with this model.

Innocent proudly says that since 2003 it’s raised over £2 million for Age UK. On average that’s just over £140,000 a year – for 560000 hats a year.

Let’s start with a little look at the value Innocent puts on the time of the knitters who make these little hats.

Innocent make a 25p donation for each hat. The national living wage in the UK is £7.50 an hour. That means that Innocent put a value of 2 minutes worth of minimum wage work onto a knitted hat. I know some pretty speedy knitters, but none that wouldn’t starve to death on that rate. I know that knitters are doing this for free, and because it’s for charity – but it devalues knitting in the most horrible way.

Then let’s look at what happens to these hats afterwards. I suspect that a few will be treasured and kept, but that most will end up as landfill. Saying that Innocent have helped contribute 5,000,000 extra items to landfill since this started doesn’t have quite such the same feel good vibe. I suspect that quite a bit of the yarn used is acrylic, and that doesn’t break down in a hurry. I’ve seen several different dates, and there are lots of variables – however 30-40 years seems like a reasonable figure.

I also have an issue with this yarn being wasted. I live in the UK and fuel poverty is a real and worrying issue for many people, including some who are target users for Age UK. Wouldn’t it be better to have used the yarn from 5,000,000 bits of landfill to makes hats, socks or squares for blankets – something which could have a positive and lasting effect?

Then back to the numbers. In order to get your hat to Innocent it has to be posted (unless you live locally to Innocent Towers and can pop round). 2nd class post for a large letter is 74p. So with a penny for your envelope it’s cost you 3 times what Innocent are going to donate just to get the hat to them. The madness continues, as Innocent say they hand write and post thank you notes to every knitter. I’m sure they get a great deal on postage, but even so that’s likely to be the value of at least another couple of donations. It’s a massively inefficient way to support a charity.

Innocent say that they donate 10% of their profits to charity, mostly through the Innocent Foundation. I can’t find evidence of any other charity they support that’s being asked to exploit knitters in order to receive donations.

One final lot of numbers for you. Remember the £140,000 average donation each year? I was channel hopping last night and caught the Innocent smoothie Big Knit ad in the middle of the X Factor. I suspect that prime time Saturday night advertising doesn’t come cheap – and google suggests between £10k and £30k for one 30 second ad. That’s just to air the ad. So by the time you’ve added up the cost of making the advert plus the cost of showing it, plus cots for print media it’s likely that Innocent will have spent more on their adverts than they will have donated to Age UK.

I’d love to see Innocent address these issues. I’d like to believe that this just hasn’t been thought through as well as it might be, and that once someone looks at the costs against the benefits they’ll realise there’s a better way to do things. Until then? Just don’t ask me to knit little hats.

55 thoughts on “Not So Innocent Little Hats

  1. Hello, I came from the Snail’s blog. I’m not a local, but I found your post well thought through and very clear. I suspect that ‘Innocent’ (such a clever name) is probably a justification for Coca Cola’s huge profits. They can state they spend X millions on charitable works every year, which includes all those things you pointed out. It’s an excellent advertising ploy and clearly they aren’t that interested in helping the aged or they would do something more practical and helpful than having well meaning private individuals make little knitted hats for smoothies – an idea which the more I think about the dafter I find – (I’ve got a low opinion of corporations, can you tell?) Sorry about the rant. Great post!

    1. Innocent did start off as a stand alone company – and it went through a couple of name changes before Innocent.

      I’m hopeful that if companies see that they can get the same or better publicity by doing something that does more food then that’s the path they’ll take.

  2. Time was when Innocent donated 50p per hat, and even then it was totally devaluing knitting. Not to mention all the other issues you raised, Joy.

    May I re-blog this?

    1. I’d forgotten about the 50p a hat – and I think that innocent used to charge more for the bottles with hats, but I couldn’t find anything about that when I looked.

      Please do re-blog – it’s great that this is being spread.

  3. Well done! I’ve often thought this is more of a promotional gimmick than a genuine attempt to help a charity.

  4. Totally agree. A few other thoughts on Acrylic.It is sourced from crude oil, a fossil fuel, so contributing to the decrease of natural resources. In terms of the break down, a recent report said that the micro fibres never really disintegrate and that water skimmed from the Great Barrier Reef showed a significant percentage of micro acrylic fibres which could be identified as used in textiles. So acrylic in land fill is a very major concern.

  5. I totally agree. A few other thoughts on acrylic. It is sourced from crude oil, so contributes to the depletion of natural resources. In terms of break down, recent research, which skimmed the top 2 inches of water around the Great Barrier Reef found a significant proportion of micro acrylic fibres which could be identified as textile fibres. and stated that total disintegration is a very, very long term process. So acrylic in landfill is a major worry.

  6. I largely agree with you. however, charities especially the big ones like AgeUK are as much brands as the likes of Innocent. so it’s not just the specific amount of money, it’s also raising awareness of the brand. and the link between Innocent and a feel good act is advertising for themselves of course. I remember it being 50p before CocaCola came into the picture!

    this sort of project is supposed to be fun. and awareness raising. them putting any emphasis on a specific amount of money donated is, as you point out, to make them look cheap, since if it was just about money there are many ways it could be done better.

    Really not disagreeing with any of your points (especially the landfill one) and I no longer take part in this, I did the first year, it got me started back knitting after a long break. Motives need to be more honest for all concerned.

    1. My concern there is that people will feel they’ve done their bit by knitting a hat, when what they’ve really done is promote Coca Cola. I guess that the bigger charities have become brands to survive and they seem to fulfil their remit with very different amounts of success.

  7. Reblogged this on LEAPING LIFE and commented:
    A number of really important issues are raised in this post, with great clarity and objectivity. As an avid knitter, as well as a volunteer with three age-related charities, I wholeheartedly agree with Joy on all counts.

  8. Really interesting thoughts. I’ve often pondered about corporate charity. I also met the people at Innocent back in the days before they were owned by Coke. From what I could tell, they really did have an interest in global wellbeing. However, the fancy “group curries” (team happiness meetings) put me off joining them! Easy isn’t it – to think that doing your bit (baking a cake, knitting a hat, running a race) is a positive step towards helping others. And it is. But it’s a lot more helpful I’m sure to pop your dosh in their bank or your time on their rota. It’s the Waitrose tokens that grind my gears. I see those lovely yummy Mummies toddling their little one up to select a charity. “Which one shall we help today Ambrosia?”… as if their 0.001p is actually doing a darn thing other than making them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Teach the kid to hand that plastic thing back and donate a penny instead. Fill those slots with cheques and bank notes until they don’t work anymore. The cost of feeling good ourselves is usually the benefit to the brand. Ok, I’m waffling now. Still… yes.

    1. You waffle away! It’s good stuff and you’ve made me dwell on the subject. I walk straight past those token bins these days and my charity money goes mostly straight from my bank account to that of my chosen charities.

  9. I have been annoyed for years about this campaign – I started off being annoyed because it so undervalued the labour of the knitter, and increased my annoyance once I thought of all the attendant waste of resources and money. Well done for raising this.

  10. You should email this to Innocent. Their customer service is supposed to be very good. I bet they would answer and I would like to know what they have to say. I have been thinking about the waist of the Big Knit for a while now. Glad it wasn’t just me. And I didn’t know they were owned by CocaCola 😦 Thanks you.

  11. I completely agree with everything you’ve said – and have done for some time. You’re going to do so much more just donating directly! Oh, and as to what happens to the hats? Search on eBay for “Innocent hats” and you’ll see (though you might not like people much afterwards.)

  12. I wrote about this issue last year when I wondered if I would have been better donating the money straight to Age Uk. I use only the last remnants of yarn for the hats. I didn’t make any this year, but have boght one instead. It is not going into landfill!

  13. Well said Joy! I get asked in the shop for oddments every autumn for folk to knit these stupid things. My response has and always will be that if they want to knit hats for Age UK, knit hats for people, not bottles, and then I’ll gladly donate!

  14. Although I fully understand this post, and even agree to some degree, there are a couple of other things to consider. 1. The little hats have labels with public health messages in them. The most recent ones I saw were about the importance of keeping warm in winter for older people. Excess winter deaths is a thing in the UK, and this is a pretty widespread medium to communicate about it. 2. The promotional value of the campaign to Age UK as an organisation. It may generate additional awareness, volunteering and donations. I actually quite like making the little hats for this reason.

    Any alternative proposal needs to consider these benefits too!

    1. I didn’t know about the messages inside the hats, but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to get the word out. I’d agree there’s a promotional benefit to Age UK but I think the same benefit could be obtained through advertising without any knitting – or knitting something which has a more practical use.

      1. The labels are a universal benefit although the messages change. The equivalent campaign in the Netherlands is about loneliness in older people.

        I think the knitting campaign has a uniqueness. It is different to all the other promotional campaigns, which is probably why they keep running it.

        This is an interesting discussion, I hope alternative perspectives are welcome!

        But I did not know until today that innocent was now owned by Coca-Cola, and that does bother me a bit. I thought I was supporting an independent.

  15. Also, I only ever use leftovers, not new yarn, so I feel it’s more like using up what I already have than creating new waste. The little hats fit my nieces’ Barbie dolls too. So they may not all end up in landfill as you suggest. Or even if they do, so would the scraps of yarn which ate otherwise used up in making the little hats.

    1. Great that they fit Barbie dolls – and if they are genuinely useful that’s fantastic. I suspect that most of the buyers of these drinks won’t have any use for them. If you’d bin your scraps anyway then this is as good a use for them as anything – but I’d argue the scraps could have a more useful life as squares for blankets ( great for keeping people warm).

      1. Hmm, I can’t think I would actually knit blanket squares. Or full size hats, for that matter. I don’t mind spending 20 minutes on a 10- yard minihat for fun, but my full-size projects are generally for people I actually know.

      2. Alternative views are always interesting. Personally I’d sooner turn scraps into squares – not with the aim of making a whole blanket but to contribute to one. But everyone is different and if little hats are your thing then go for it.

        I’d say the labels are of benefit to people who see and read them – but surely putting that message into advertising as well would give it a much greater reach. I’m not convinced it’s getting the message to the people who most need it and who can act on it. The UK campaign this year seems to be about loneliness too – and it’s a hugely worthwhile thing to tackle. I remain unconvinced this is the best way to do it though.

        Innocent have been owned by Coca Cola for years – so the majority of the benefit from this campaign falls to them. I guess the charity gets the same support but the bottom line that you’re boosting belongs to a multi billion company.

  16. Thank you for spelling it all out. I’ve never liked it when a company wants me to go online (thus providing marketing info) so they will make a donation. This is a billion times worse. If they want credit for donating, fine. But do it or not because you support the charity, not as part of your advertising!

  17. That’s a great post! I’ve always felt strange about this campaign. Just…no. I think it may be because I grew up in the 1980s Poland, when we had food ration cards and there was almost nothing in stores, so it taught me that everything is precious and nothing should be taken for granted. I’m really anxious about wasting stuff, knitting something without an actual use and with great potential to end up on a landfill (and then I work in nature conservation so there’s a double issue for me!). If truly those hats go to some little girls and their Barbie dolls then great – I’m fine with that. But like you, I suspect that in most cases they end up in trash bin.
    My knitting/ crochet are so important to me because I love the fact that I’m making something myself, something that will be worn, cherished, and needed. I don’t really see it in this campaign.
    And finally, I think it’s such an easy way to make people feel good, as if they contributed something (well in fact they did, their work and time), when they could spend the same time and resources on something more useful.
    You summed it all nicely!

  18. Great post and I’ve felt much the same about the campaign from the beginning.

    However, the same thing happens on a smaller scale, and has been going on for decades if not centuries. Housewives make cakes and other products to sell or be auctioned or raffled in aid of local causes. In many cases, the amount raised barely covers the costs of the ingredients, never mind the time of the person making the item, I used to say, “No, I won’t make a cake but I’ll give you a tenner.” Costs me about the same, raises more for the cause, and no-one has devalued my time and effort. But I’m always aware that if everyone did the same, there’d be no event, which would ultimately be bad for thie cause. :/

    1. Good point, Sally. When the children’s playgroup used to have cake sales, after the first one where I saw how much (little) they were selling ‘my’ cakes for, I just gave the equivalent of what it would have cost me. They got more that way, and there was less to add to general obesity! Mind you, that was around thirty years ago and obesity wasn’t the problem it is now.

      1. But you’re (and other commenters in this thread) are not weighting the awareness raising impact, community building / cohesion and engagement of *other people* with an organisation. It’s not just a simple financial transaction! You’re also advertising and building future support for an organisation. And, in social events, quite possibly addressing loneliness and social isolation too.

        If I just give money direct to age uk (which I do sometimes!) it helps for sure, but it had no ripple effect.

        This is why I will continue to bake cakes for women’s aid, hold tea parties for home start, and (probably) knit the little hats. Not everything can be perceived as a simple money equation.

      2. If the big knit has such an amazing ripple effect then why is it still needed 15 years after it started? Why isn’t awareness through the roof?

        How do you know the money you gave to Age UK had no ripple effect?

        I’m not knocking the non financial benefits, but I don’t think this campaign is delivering. I suspect that if you ask many people they’ll know that innocent smoothie bottles have hats on but they won’t know why. They won’t even know which charity is being supported. I knew the hats went on Innocent smoothie bottled but I had to google to see which charity was being supported. That suggests that the publicity is helping Coca Cola, but not necessarily the charity.

  19. I wasn’t really talking about the innocent hats campaign specifically, but about charitable fundraising in general, since the posts above have expanded into cake making! It’s just that cost isn’t always the same as value. It does trouble me to see this discussion, if the results might be that people stop supporting fundraising events (not necessarily the innocent hats) in favour of just giving money, which although good to do, does not have the other impacts I described.

    About the repeating campaign, you could say the same about any repeated fundraiser. Why are there still Macmillan coffee mornings, for example? The answer must be, there is an ongoing need by the organisation for funds, and every year some supporters drop off and so new ones must be recruited.

    I probs have a different perspective on this one to some other commenters here, because I’m not trying to earn a living out of my fibre crafts (or indeed make any money from it at all). I am employed in a totally unrelated field, and I use part of my income to indulge a fondness for knitting. I’m one of your customers, Joy!!

    The environmental aspects that have been highlighted, and the Coca Cola ownership, do trouble me somewhat though. So I think it would be good if someone comes up with an alternative, sociable and friendly publicity campaign, that would benefit Age UK.

    If I think of anything I’ll be sure to post about it online.

    1. I think there’s a real need for clarity of knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

      If it’s raising money – and I can’t think of a single charity which would say no to cash – then looking at the most cost effective way to do this matters. There’s no point in spending £20 to make something which sells for £5 if you’re trying to raise funds. The hard truth is that for many charities they’d sooner have cash – they can buy what they need, but they need the cash to do it.

      If you’re trying to build community then I agree that things like cake baking and events which bring people together are hugely worthwhile.

      There’s a place for both. There’s a need for both.

      I think this campaign benefits Innocent (and therefor Coca Cola) more than anyone else. Macmillan coffee mornings are clearly about Macmillan – it’s very very clear about where your money is going, and it’s a great example of linking community and fundraising.

      1. I love the fact that people cite coffee mornings as being beneficial and a good way to collect money for charity. I have as much difficulty with the notion of stuffing people’s faces with unnecessary fat and sugar as I do with the hats. One of the biggest causes of cancer and heart disease is obesity…so we are all happy to contribute to that and give out unhealthy messages to children in the name of charity? As for corporations I am no fan but it’s difficult to think of anything these days which does not involve one at some level. Unless we all grow our own food, have our own wells and shear our own sheep it’s hard to avoid the big money. At least something is being given back to charity through this campaign. As a knitter of hats, I find knitting small items quite beneficial to me, the shared site is kindly and supportive and, I suspect, provides a sense of purpose to many. I am currently using up a large stash of oddments which would otherwise be useless. I have given up on acrylic yarns for garments. Looking around at reports of charities I am equally disgusted to see cuddly toys offered up to tempt donations, fat salaries to charity bosses, plastic used in Remembrance poppies…the list goes on. Horses for courses in the end.

  20. I was linked to this blog from a friend on facebook and you’ve expressed what I was feeling about the Innocent hats so well! The bit that I dislike is the wasting of yarn and it ending up in landfills. If you’re going to make a hat, why not just make one for a person who needs it? I don’t support making the hats or buying the bottles these hats are on (I mean, what am I going to do with lots of tiny hats??). I have better knitting projects to spend my time on.

    I thoroughly support knitting for charity, but not in this way. It needs to fill more meaningful for me.

  21. I appreciate that Innocent hats aren’t for everyone but there are also benefits to the people who make them that perhaps are less obvious.

    I work with older people and people with additional needs. Often the people I work with would struggle to make a completed ‘actual’ hat or even a blanket square but love the fact that a) they are contributing in a small way to a charity and to someone else deriving pleasure from their knitting and b) it’s affordable (even yarn from the pound shop may not be within the budget of someone on benefits) and c) they can make something colourful and fun (blanket squares are not always very exciting due to the (quite understandable) need for particular materials and colour etc.

    These factors can be really important, especially when working with people with mental health issues or who experience loneliness and isolation. It is inclusive and makes them feel part of a community. The simple act of making things is widely acknowledged to be beneficial to wellbeing and this project has the added benefit of giving people a reason to make them. It brings real pleasure if we find a picture of their hat online or see one in a shop.

    Add to that the fact that we are often given a selection of yarn that is often donated by people whose loved ones have passed away and may be in very small quantities of totally random, often unidentifiable composition (making it unsuitable for many charities to accept for preemie hats/blankets etc.) and it’s nice to be able to find a use for it rather than say we can’t accept it.

    Yes, Innocent get publicity out of it but in today’s climate publicity and charitable giving are often bedfellows whether we find it palatable it or not.

    I understand, and it’s great if people prefer and are able to knit other things (or bake cakes or sit in baths of baked beans!), but please don’t make those who can’t feel bad or that their efforts are worthless 😦

    1. Great points – but I suspect that the majority of knitters making these hats don’t fall into the categories you mention. If all of the hats were knitted with people who couldn’t knit anything else then there would be no argument that time and yarn could be put to better use. I don’t believe that’s the case though – and if it was I believe that we’d be hearing all about it because it would be wonderful publicity for Innocent. So there’s a lot of ability and talent which could be put to better use.

      If someone is lonely and isolated they’ll feel better for being in company – not because they’ve knitted a hat for a bottle. Doing something productive is so important for mental health, and I’d argue that being part of a project which produces something genuinely useful has much more of a feel good factor than creating landfill.

      Yarn that’s been donated can be turned into all kinds of stuff – and having had a quick look I’m not seeing restrictions on fibre types from charities who accept knitted goods. If the only thing the people you work with can knit is little hats then that’s how it is. It’s great that you’re helping them do that. That’s not true for most places which get yarn donated. Even little lengths can add a bit of colour to a square for a blanket.

      I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad – but I think that unless there are other reasons for making hats (like for the people you work with who can’t make anything else) that there are better things to be doing. Not everyone is going to agree with me and that’s fine. I hate that the good nature of knitters is being abused, and that their efforts are contributing less than they think. Innocent spend more on advertising this campaign than they donate to charity. They’ve cut the donations per hat. Their profits are up. They’re not happy to engage in any debate about this. Publicity and charitable giving are always going to go hand in hand – I don’t think anyone expects otherwise. But when a multi billion dollar company acts like this it’s good to challenge that and to let them know that there are better ways for them to support Age Concern.

      We live in a country where people rely on foodbanks, so I’d never be in favour of anyone sitting in a bath of baked beans – it’s another example of the kind of stupid wastefulness that charity fundraising can promote, and the sooner we stop supporting that and start working effectively for the charities we want to support the better off everyone will be.

  22. I absolutely get your comment in the land fill. That has been a concern of mine too.

    As to the hourly rate thing we must disagree, I am a solicitor and my hourly rate is £210 per hour. It takes me 30 mins per hat so that’s £105 per hat. No one would pay that. I give my time free so that it raises a small amount of money so people can care for elderly veterans – which I don’t have the time to do.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I worked out hourly rates based on minimum wage – but your situation makes knitting hats even less sensible. If you accept that most charities need money then it makes more sense for you to work for 30 minutes and donate what you earn than it does to knit for 30 minutes for someone in order for a multinational to donate 25 pence. Sometimes donating your time is the best option – and sometimes using that time to earn money and donating that money offers lots more benefit.

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