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Commentary: Body Shop collapse shows that ‘ethical’ branding is not a free pass to commercial success

Commentary: Body Shop collapse shows that ‘ethical’ branding is not a free pass to commercial success


British supermarkets have proved much more more skilful at this in recent years. How often do you hear about a skincare or beauty brand setting up food donation points, appointing “community champions” (like Morrisons), or partnering with charities (like Tesco has with the British Red Cross)?

These are ethical initiatives that genuinely help people in need, while also giving shoppers an extra reason to spend money with the shops involved.

Our recent study indicates consumers tend to judge businesses that claim to be ethical in terms of their commitment to this kind of caring attitude, as well as fairness and honesty. This supports previous research that shows an emergent consumer focus on morality.

Unlike The Body Shop, a few skincare brands have had the foresight in recent years to emphasise caring for people in their branding, and been successful in solidifying their ethical image. These include Dove and its “Real Beauty” campaigns, and the Boots brand No7 with its “Future Renew” product range targeting women aged from 30 to 75, which aims to restore damaged skin and maintain a natural appearance without resorting to cosmetic procedures. No7 also partners with Macmillan Cancer Support to help women with cancer “look and feel like themselves”.

Similarly, Lush’s more prominent ethical standpoint appears to be centred on its employees’ craftsmanship, well-being and pride. The company states: “We believe in happy people making happy soap, putting our faces on the products and making our mums proud.”

But The Body Shop’s demise is not just about its ethical stance. Commentators have argued that the company failed to innovate its product range, was not competitive enough on price, and ignored rivals such as Lush and Origins.

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