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