News of the appointment of The Body Shop’s first non-Roddick
director last week prompted a wave of criticism and the sounding of a
rather premature death knell.
One analyst compared the appointment of ex-Danone chief executive
officer Patrick Gournay as the retailer’s CEO to a deck chair reshuffle
on the Titanic. The company has now launched a charm offensive to put
its side across.
But a stroll around an average outlet illustrates one of the retailer’s
problems. The product mix would not be out of place in Woolworths: gold,
spangly purses made out of bubble wrap, Day-Glo plastic hair clips,
velvet alice bands, multicoloured mascara for hair and pencil-case
goodies. This will soon be a thing of the past if central management has
Cynics may scoff at the notion of there being any ’central management’
at the The Body Shop, given the short life expectancy of executives not
called Roddick, but the ethical retailer the City loves to hate is
determined to overhaul itself properly this time.
Rationalising the product range is a high priority, according to global
head of media relations and internal communications Didier Lagae, as is
refocusing on core lines and values, communicating effectively with
consumers, creating new products that are young, funky and engaging, and
getting them to market efficiently.
Many of the The Body Shop’s problems stem from the fact that other high
street retailers have copied its products and, not being held back by
its ’principles before profits’ ethos, have done a good job of marketing
Boots in particular has scored with its Natural Collection, which
launched in 1988, and its Botanics, Spa and Kyusu ranges.
Marks & Spencer and the big supermarkets have all brought out
aromatherapy and natural product ranges, which undercut those of The
In an interview with Marketing, Lagae described The Body Shop’s plans to
reinvent itself for the Millennium. He was adamant that founder Anita
Roddick was not going to take a back seat following Gournay’s
appointment, which was announced with the firm’s results last week
(Marketing, May 14). The move is intended to allow her to concentrate on
what she does best: campaigning, communing with indigenous peoples and
creating new products.
’The value of (Anita’s) travels really cannot be underestimated,’ said
an industry source. ’One of the reasons why The Body Shop has suffered
in recent years is that she has been doing far less travelling and
therefore has not been discovering new ingredients and new recipes.’
Lagae is harder: ’We are great at being creative and generating ideas
but we are lousy at translating them into products, and even worse at
getting them the hell out of here and into consumers’ hands,’ he
That is where Gournay comes in. ’He will concentrate on process to make
us more efficient.’
Lagae cites the retailer’s latest launches, the Bergamot and Hemp
ranges, as examples of the sort of NPD projects that it excels at.
Within a week of going on sale, the Hemp range, which is made up of five
moisturising products, accounted for 5% of total sales.
Roddick claims that hemp, a relative of the marijuana plant but with no
narcotic effect, has been a victim of a smear campaign. Naturally, the
launch generated huge publicity. Roddick handed out packets of hemp
seeds that carried the message: ’Do not attempt to use the plant as a
narcotic. You would need to smoke a joint the size of a telegraph pole
to get high.’
’The Hemp range’s funky packaging really appeals to young people,’ says
Lagae. He points out that it is also a campaigning issue and an
educational issue, which makes it core Body Shop territory.
’Right on’ campaigns rather than advertising have always been the
backbone of its marketing. While Lagae admits the retailer may have
over-done the preaching, he says: ’Our commitment to social change is
We are not going to stop campaigning. It is true that we may have been
too preaching. Our new campaign, Make Your Mark, is the biggest ever
human rights campaign, running in 30 countries. It is more involving
than previous campaigns, as we are inviting consumers to participate by
literally making their mark (with their thumb print) to support human
However much it accepts criticism of its past marketing, The Body Shop
remains suspicious of advertising. The campaign for its aromatherapy
line, which ran last May and was its first mainstream above-the-line
brand work, will not run again. ’We have very mixed feelings about
advertising. We prefer guerrilla marketing techniques, to be more
counter culture than mainstream, and we will always have a very low
spend,’ says Lagae.
That said, he confirms that The Body Shop is considering TV for the
first time. There are no firm plans yet, but Lagae anticipates more
advertising in August and September.
Despite the firm’s protestations that everything will be all right now
that the management has been beefed up and it has recognised its
weaknesses, observers are unconvinced.
Claiming that it has an incredibly loyal customer base among women over
30, and that competition is not something to be overly worried about,
makes it sound like The Body Shop’s top managers have been exposed to
hemp’s better-known cousin.