View from the C-Suite: The Body Shop finds accountability in activism

Refills, reformulations and diversity are helping the retailer live up to its reputation.

Hilary Lloyd

The Body Shop had barely time to celebrate the launch of its new “activist workshop” retail concept at Vancouver’s Pacific Centre in March 2020 when the pandemic came knocking.

But while the beauty retailer has grappled with store closures and other pandemic disruptions, the crisis hasn’t halted the widespread roll-out of some of the concept’s new eco-friendly and activism-oriented features, says Hilary Lloyd, VP of marketing and corporate responsibility for North America. In fact, some of the changes have more-or-less accelerated over that period, following what the marketer describes as “extremely high engagement” with its activist workshop concept.

BS_EC_2108126643For example, the Vancouver store introduced refill stations, allowing customers to purchase a refillable aluminum bottle which they can fill (and later refill) with a selection of shower gels, shampoos, conditioners and hand washes. More stores have been retrofitted with the stations during the pandemic, and by the end of this year, 91 stores (or just shy of 80% of its Canadian network) will have them.

To date, Lloyd says the results are encouraging. When given the choice between purchasing a product from the on-shelf, standard pack or using the refill option, 30% to 50% of customers are opting for the latter.

Elsewhere in store, The Body Shop has been experimenting with creating grassroots “activist experiences.” The new retail concept contains designated space – described as an “activist corner”– that aims to equip employees and the community with tools, training and access to organizations, so that they can engage on the social or environmental justice initiatives that best reflect the needs or expectations of their community. That, too, is now a national program that will eventually be rolled out across all of its Canadian and U.S. stores.

And last week, the retailer relaunched its iconic body butters globally with an improved formula, new ingredients and 100% sustainable packaging. The push is being promoted with a North American campaign, called “Spread the Love,” featuring a diverse cast of TikTok dance creators, including Tracy “OJ” Joseph, Layla Muhammed, Sunjai Williams and Amari Smith.

What does it mean to be an activist retailer today? 

Lloyd: We define our purpose as fighting for a fairer and more beautiful world, so that becomes the foundation from which we develop all of the things that we do. As a business, we then campaign on subjects, whether they’re social justice topics or environmental justice topics, which we think sustain and create a space or world that is fairer and more beautiful.

So we’ve been focused on using our platform to tell inclusion stories, to create accountability through policy and action. And then we do it in the way we tell our product stories, the types of products we develop, how we represent bodies when we tell stories – all critically important to fulfilling this mission to be an activist brand.

Many brands have shown support for sustainability, DEI and other causes through pledges and commitments. But not many are willing to describe themselves as “activist” brands. What impact has using that language had on your business? 

The Body ShopFor one, it creates accountability. We have to hold ourselves accountable inside and always be learning along the way and holding ourselves to that language. I would argue that our employee collective does an amazing job of doing that.

What it also does is it creates an expectation across our consumer base. We put that language out there, so we have to then fulfill that language, and a lot of the ways we do that is through action-oriented campaigning. So, words are great, education is really important. But what we’re becoming more and more focused on doing, which I think is more in keeping with a version of The Body Shop that customers have come to expect, is lobbying and engaging institutions to suggest that we change and continue to evolve.

Where does the refill program fit into your broader sustainability goals? 

Our longer term aim is to have 100% of our plastic packaging be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030.

Historically, The Body Shop has introduced plastic programs that centre around community fair trade. So approaching the plastic crisis in the world a little bit differently by identifying communities in India that could benefit from support through plastic collection, and then using those plastics in our packaging itself.

Now we’re rolling out refill comprehensively, and we’re addressing it through the packaging as part of new product and pack introductions on a rolling basis. So you’re starting to see it across several types of platforms, all part of that larger commitment.

When it comes to creating activist experiences in store, how do you balance focusing on causes that are important locally and on those that are important to you as a global or national organization?

The activism program is designed to be community-led and community organizing-focused. Certainly we have core values around diversity, equity and inclusion that we feel strongly about at The Body Shop, so that is the lion’s share of the area where our teams focus.

But we’ve also executed campaigns on a national scale, which then can be hosted in those environments. Most recently, we executed it through the Pride period, but it is a much longer-term campaign, focused on sustaining or creating real policy change in both Canada and the United States, partnering with critical organizations who support the LGBTQ2+ communities in both markets. So again, it’s a balance of community-led and then national priority programs.

How does the relaunch of your body butters globally and new North American campaign reflect your activist-based brand-building approach? 

Our body butters are our top selling, most-loved product, so renovating them and re-introducing them is a pretty big deal. And in doing that, we want to make sure that we are reflecting the version of the business that we want to be right now.

So, the body butters have been reformulated and are now 100% vegan-certified. That’s part of our 2023 commitment to make sure that our entire product portfolio is 100% vegan. We’ve introduced new ingredients, so things like avocado, which is sustainably sourced. And then the butters themselves come in much more sustainable packaging. It’s a fully recyclable tub, made of 100%, post-consumer recycled PET, and comes with a recyclable aluminum lid. And the tubs themselves already contain community fair trade plastic from our program around securing plastic in India. That’s the product story.

Body ButtersOur campaign is local to North America and is a nice bridge from our previous focus through the pandemic on mental well-being and self-esteem and self-love, and revolving it now through a product lens, where the campaign theme is around spreading love. What we’re trying to do is create an anthem for butters and for bodies. The idea is to celebrate this new product through celebrating unique bodies and lifting them up.

To do that, we engaged a series of talented creators to participate with us in the campaign through dance. We created a unique track for it. It will run across streaming platforms, in high-impact outdoor both in Toronto and across key cities in the U.S. We’ll do sampling in parallel with some of those billboard executions.

And then a big part of the campaign is holding up this amazing, diverse, talented collection of creators who were involved in the campaign itself. They’ll be sharing their work and we’ll be recognizing their work on social, all with the goal of driving engagement and recognition of these talented folks – celebrating both butters and diverse, talented bodies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities.