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Interview: How The Body Shop stays accountable in its push for sustainability

Interview: How The Body Shop stays accountable in its push for sustainability

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Sustainability is part of The Body Shop's DNA and the brand has been walking the talk in this area, setting up refill programmes and launching its The Body Shop Activist Makers workshop store at Sunway Pyramid in May. While brands these days are working hard to drive sustainability and bring the purpose to life, Qas Qayyum, The Body Shop global head franchise, MD, told A+M in an interview that brands need to come from a place of authenticity.

"You can't simply [drive sustainability] because it's a trend or because it's going to be important to sell a product. Customers are savvy, they're going to see right through this," he said, adding:

My advice would be to keep it authentic and hold the brand to some really tangible targets so you can measure progress.

This is exactly what The Body Shop is doing - measuring its performance and holding itself to really "clear ambitious goals and targets", said Qayyum. While Qayyum (pictured) did not reveal exact figures, he explained that The Body Shop has internal metrics to measure performance with a sustainability angle.

the body shop qas

"When we communicate this strategy to our people internally, it is not hard [to get them on board] because they understand that this is our purpose - to fight for a fairer and more beautiful world. Brands should keep driving [the sustainability agenda] because when there is more of us driving it, the greater impact we can make collectively," he said.

When it comes to sustainability, one common trap people might fall into is greenwashing. Not only will it result in backlash from the media and public, consumers too are also more hesitant about trusting sustainability claims. Milieu Insight's survey done earlier this year found that among 1,000 beauty product shoppers found that 67% of respondents will research more about the claims on their beauty products packaging to know if they are really sustainable/clean/ethical, especially those from the Philippines (83%) and Malaysia (72%).

The Body Shop, however, has always strived to walk the talk. The Body Shop's refill programme, for example, is part of its five-year plan unveiled last April to roll out refill stations to the majority of its stores globally in a bid to drive sustainability. Aside from Malaysia, refill stations are also available in its Singapore stores. It also uses natural ingredients in its body butter and ensures that the packaging is made from 100% recycled plastics. 

At the same time, activism is also part of The Body Shop's DNA, Qayyum said. In 2017, for example, the brand rolled out a campaign titled "Forever Against Animal Testing" together with non-profit organisation Cruelty Free International to ban animal testing in cosmetic products and ingredients globally. It also announced the UNDI 18 campaign in Malaysia, which allows Malaysians aged 18 to 20 to vote and new voters to be automatically registered. This move came about because the brand believes that young people deserve a voice since the future belongs to the young.

The Body Shop is among the brands that are boldly taking a stand for issues it believes in. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022, societal leadership is now a core business function and 58% of consumers are willing to purchase from or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values. In Malaysia, specifically, a third of consumers view businesses as "highly effective agents of positive change". Also, CEOs are expected to help inform and shape conversations and policy debates on a range of issues ranging from jobs/economy, wage inequality, and technology to automation, but not on politics.

When asked how The Body Shop toes the line between standing for a cause while maintaining its pool of consumers, Qayyum said: "We are rediscovering our activism muscle. We are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable." The journey is definitely not easy for the brand but Qayyum said it is important to use the brand's influence to bond social and environmental justice both locally and globally. "And that's the beauty of working with partners to understand the local nuances and sensitivities," he said.

Aside from UNDI 18, The Body Shop also worked on a Tiger crisis campaign, garnering about 220,000 signatures in support of protecting Malayan tigers.

It also worked to end domestic violence in Malaysia during the COVID-19 pandemic. "It's really important that when we think about driving change and activism, we are locally relevant. Working closely with local NGOs and experts to co-create campaigns is incredibly important because that's when we can really start to drive and make change," he explained. 

Physical stores usually offer customers with a more immersive experience which can help The Body Shop champion its causes. When asked how the company is translating that experience into the online space, Qayyum said the company sees online and offline working hand in hand. 

"It's truly an omnichannel approach for us where we can drive the element of sustainability and get the product to come to life both online and offline. The omnichannel experience represents a more consistent and seamless experience, regardless of wherever the customer shops," he explained.

Across all its channels, particularly eCommerce, The Body Shop strives for "a consistent but not identical experience" as it deeply values the impact of personal connections, and experience with its customers. "We see our channels as more than just a point of contact but a point of sales. They are channels are places where customers can learn about the product stories, be inspired by like-minded people who fight for the things that we care about. And online is no different. You can jump online to our website and hereof and read about the issues that we care about the campaigns that we want to fight for, and how you as a customer can help to drive change," he said.

How The Body Shop's marketing has evolved

Over the past two years, The Body Shop has taken a more targeted and personalised approach than ever before and according to Qayyum, this forms "a really integral part of [its] omnichannel strategy". "When we do marketing, there is a role for traditional marketing media but from a digital perspective, we also want to be where our young consumers are. That's really also shaping how we communicate the brand on platforms such as TikTok. We think about how we can really engage and produce authentic content to engage the younger customers," he explained.

Aside from being authentic in the push for sustainability, companies also need to ensure the content they produce is authentic to build a genuine connection with the younger generation, who are all about authenticity these days. To this end, Qayyum explained that The Body Shop has social and environmental responsibility woven into everything it does and user-generated content is also an important part of its communication strategy. 

"We have a plethora of ambassadors who are passionate advocates of the brand and who have actually worked for the brand. So leveraging them to help drive and create user-generated content becomes a really important element. It also helps inject authenticity into our content. There's also nothing better than being locally relevant," he explained.

Related articles:
The Body Shop MY walks the sustainability talk with new interactive store
The Body Shop's retailer sees profit jump, eCommerce a crucial contributor
The Body Shop Indonesia promotes CDO Daniel Hagmeijer
The Body Shop Indonesia challenges Indonesia consumers to go green this Ramadan

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