CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/THE BODY SHOP - The Body Shop is going to have to take its marketing seriously, Mairi Clark says

So it's finally happened. The hippy "we don't need advertising"

ethos of The Body Shop appears to be drawing to a close. In the end,

though, few will be surprised by the news that the ethical retailer is

considering the appointment of an advertising agency.



The Body Shop has seen a sharp downturn in fortunes over the past few

years, going from consumers' favourite to something approaching

also-ran.



The company's image has lost much of its edge and its most recent set of

results showed profits falling from £38 million to £25

million.



Anita Roddick, the high-profile founder of the firm - and human

embodiment of the shop's values - has taken a back seat in management

since floating the company in 1984. The firm's valuation soared to

£700 million in 1992, but is now languishing at half that.



Observers believe that Roddick's role will further decrease once The

Body Shop is sold. The board of Body Shop International has admitted

discussions with prospective buyers, and the possible loss of the

store's public figurehead would make the need for a new approach to

communications all the more pressing.



Roddick's dealings with agencies were strongly influenced by her own

ethical agenda, which is sceptical of advertising. Her most consistent

dealings have been with St Luke's, which was first appointed in 1994

(when the agency was still Chiat Day) but which has worked only

intermittently with The Body Shop. Below the line, Archibald Ingall

Stretton was signed up in 1999 to drive The Body Shop's loyalty

programme. However, the card was launched with little publicity,

something that AIS blames on the refusal of the retailer to advertise.

"When they launched the loyalty programme we were adamant that they

should advertise the scheme," AIS's partner Jon Ingall says. "But their

belief was that a poster in a shop is advertising."



However, market factors have made it impossible for The Body Shop to

ignore brand evolution. When the store launched in 1976, the issues that

it brought to the fore were new to the public mind. Roddick and company

made animal testing an issue that people would be prepared to change

their shopping habits over. Now, customers are more concerned about such

issues but The Body Shop's competitors have also been alive to the

opportunity.



Boots launched its cruelty-free range of cosmetics in the late 80s and

since then cosmetics companies have been keen to point out that they too

shun testing on animals. These companies are also prepared to back up

their claims with advertising.



However, Ingall insists that structural problems within the company will

continue to make it difficult for agencies to deal with The Body

Shop.



"One of the main problems is the structure of the business," he

says.



"It's half franchises and half owned by the company, so anything they

want to do has to be sold to the franchises. Ten years ago what they

were selling was unusual but now it's not. Yet they haven't moved on as

either a brand or a company."