Brand purpose V2, Body Shop style; Steve Hatch's car crash interview

28 Jan 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Brand purpose V2, Body Shop style; Steve Hatch's car crash interview

The Body Shop transforming its stores into activist hubs is a form of brand purpose Dominic Mills actually approves of. Plus: Steve Hatch's grilling, and Centaur Marketing's bizarre rebrand

The brand purpose debate rumbles on — here’s Brian Jacobs chipping in broadly in favour of Gillette’s efforts — and will no doubt kick off again if anyone tries to hijack next week’s Super Bowl for a bit of brand purpose.

One that won’t, surprisingly, is Gillette. I’m sure it has some perfectly justifiable reasons for foregoing the Super Bowl, but it’s a bit odd. After all, it will index highly on the target market. But not just men. Families watch the Super Bowl together, so the ad would certainly stimulate the cross-gender, cross-age debates that Gillette needs to challenge ideas of masculinity.

If Gillette really believed in the importance of its purpose, then it would want to use the biggest platform it could. I can’t help thinking not showing the ad in the Super Bowl is cowardly.

No matter. Over here, Body Shop moved the brand purpose debate forward in a quite different direction, and none the less interesting for that, with the announcement that it is planning to turn its shops into activist hubs.

First, a bit of history. Under founder Anita Roddick, purpose was a core part of Body Shop’s DNA. But its missionary zeal never sat comfortably with its next owner L’Oreal, which bought it in 2006.

Fast forward to 2017 and the sale of Body Shop to Brazilian retailer Natura, an entity far more culturally aligned with the Body Shop ethos. You can read an interesting piece about this here.

Let’s start with the why. One reason, Body Shop (and I’m resisting the temptation to shorten it to BS) says, is to revive footfall to the high street and to its stores generally. Nothing wrong with that, and judging by a short visit to my local one on a wet Thursday in January — the staff outnumbered customers 3:1 — it’s necessary.

The second, and here I’m making an educated guess, is that Body Shop is a brand in need of a purpose. Yes, historically it had one — to end animal testing of ‘cosmoceutical’ products — but this was largely (although by no means completely) achieved in 2013 when an EU ban was introduced.

Job (mostly) done and plaudits to Body Shop for that. But it left a big hole in its purpose positioning, and one it struggled to fill under L’Oreal.

But now it’s found one. As announced by its head of global activism (a job title created in September 2018, but one which tells us a lot about how Body Shop sees itself), Jessie Macneil-Brown, the retailer plans to focus on gender equality and feminism.

“We want to be a real feminist brand,” Macneil-Brown says, although it is not clear exactly what this means.

I suspect that this is deliberately vague. If each shop is an activist hub, then Body Shop is effectively saying to local customers: “Come in and run the campaigns you want to”.

They might be about gender equality; they might be about minority female empowerment; they might be about single mums; they might be about carers. It doesn’t matter. Body Shop gives help, advice, support, connections to other like-minded groups, and a platform — as well as, I fondly imagine, rolls of sticky-back plastic and staple guns to make banners and placards.

And that is why I think it is a much better form of brand purpose than, say, Gillette’s. While being entirely aligned with Body Shop’s history and culture, it is not forcing a corporate agenda on to its customers. It is not saying ‘our purpose or no purpose’. And it is not taking any moral high ground. The purpose is entirely organic and generated by its customer base. Body Shop is merely, within a framework of feminism, a facilitator.

And while I like it, the Body Shop approach is not a million miles different from a smaller competitor, Lush. The early history of Lush is curiously entwined with that of the Body Shop, so perhaps their evolution as campaigners is no coincidence. Via its Charity Pot product, sales proceeds of which are available — in sums from £100 to £10,000 — to local and grassroots charities.

Steve Hatch’s car crash interview

If you fancy 3.30 minutes of car-crash TV, may I recommend Steve Hatch’s interview on last Wednesday’s BBC News with media editor Amol Rajan.

Spectacular stuff. In his capacity as Facebook EMEA boss, Hatch was volunteered (well, it’s hard to imagine he put his hand up) to answer questions about Instagram content linked to the suicide last year of 14-year-old Molly Russell.

The story jumped to the top of the national agenda at the weekend, displacing even Brexit in the Sunday Times, and further accelerated by Health Secretary Matt Hancock threatening legislation.

It doesn’t begin well for Hatch. “There’s a picture of some slit wrists,” says Rajan... pause... "that’s from Instagram. There’s a picture full of blood... [pause]... that’s from Instagram. There’s a cartoon picture with a young girl cuddling a teddy bear saying ‘this world is cruel and I don’t want to see it anymore’. Those are all against your policies yet available on Instagram... or were until the BBC found them.”

As he lists each transgression, Rajan hands Hatch a print-off of the visual. Hatch handles them like they are unexploded bombs.

Which they are. He is non-plussed, stunned, almost squirming in his seat.

He looks like a man thinking: 'Why am I doing this? Isn’t this what we’re paying Nick Clegg for?’

What he actually says... after a long pause... is: “Well, we... I... have to make sure we look at these and ensure these are taken down if they are against our policies...” quickly handing back the picture bombs.

The sense you get is that he has no idea if they are against Instagram policies. In some inverted twist of logic — there must be a special Facebook mirror that turns things upside down — he tries to claim that Instagram provides support to people thinking about self-harm. “I see in Instagram an environment that is supportive, that is creative, and we’ve always got to work harder to take down the wrong kind of images, which some of these may be.”

Talking of mirrors, you have to wonder what Hatch sees when he looks in his own mirror. Does he see a man who really believes what he’s saying? Or does see a man whose soul has been eaten away by a career at Facebook?

Still, I’m sure he can find a support group on Instagram for Facebook executives troubled by their consciences.

Tongue twister

I see that Centaur Marketing — owners of Marketing Week, Econsultancy, Oystercatchers and the Festival of Brands among others — has rebranded.

As... wait for it... XEIM.

Hmmm. WTF, you may be thinking. Me too.

Centaur says the phrase is derived from the term ‘excellence in marketing’, which is something I would never have worked out on my own.

And nor, I suspect, will its customer base.

It’s also supposed to highlight the digital transformation of its brands. Again, that would have escaped me.

I’m not someone whose instinctive reaction to a rebrand is hostility, as long as they follow two rules. One, the logic must be clear. If you have to explain it, you’re lost.

The second is that you have to know how to say it. I would have said ‘Xeem’.

But I’m told that is wrong. The correct pronunciation is X E M. How would you ever work that out? And where’s the ‘I’ gone?

Type ‘excellence in marketing’ into Google and what you get is a real mish-mash, and certainly no mention (page one anyway) of either XEIM or Centaur. Indeed, both the term itself and its close relation, ‘marketing excellence’, appear to have been colonised by others.

So, apart from concluding that Centaur, sorry XEIM, needs to spend some money on search, I would conclude that its own marketing efforts are so far not very excellent at all.

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GrahamLeFarge, MD, 07 Investment on 1 Feb 2019
“XIEM? "Bless you!"
It was probably an Oystercatchers idea.
Centuaur - very 80's
Xiem - very 00's
They love being behind the times.”

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