The Body Shop: when stories fall short

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been given a serious factual correction by Michael, the Brazilian fixer who worked for the photgrapher on this shoot.  Please see his comment below.  Bottom line is he’s right and I was wrong in jumping to conclusions.

It turns out this girl is not a model, she is a person who works on picking nuts that supply the Body Shop in Maranhão, Brazil.  So I was wrong here – I figured she was a model and wove a whole story around that.

Personally, I still have some questions about this choice of image and the decisions around this campaign, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that I missed the mark on this one.  Thanks to Michale for the correction, and lesson learned for me that there tearing others down is not the right way to make a point.

I’ve edited my post somewhat.  I still stand behind some of the points, but more importantly I think it’s only fair to leave up what I originally said — lesson learned on this one, though.]

I’m beginning to think that outdoor advertising is the lowest rung on the external communications ladder.

Yesterday I came across this terrible ad.  Here’s a storytelling 101 suggestion: when you think your story is done, step back, look at it, and repeat it in 10 words or less to someone who’s never heard it before and who represents the people you are trying to reach.  See what they say; ask them if the story makes sense to them.

So what is the (very low quality…sorry) “hand selected naturally!” image trying to say?  Presumably that this woman had something to do with the hand selecting of the natural ingredients to your Body Shop products, and that this makes them more real, natural and authentic. [In fact she did, according to Michael’s comment, below.] Problem is, look at the woman — down to her designer short jean shorts and her $75 woven basket.

The image is so far off that it is borderline offensive.  There are hundreds of millions of people out there who make their livelihoods in agriculture, and I’m sure many of them sell to the Body Shop.  But somehow the Body Shop was unwilling to go all the way to authenticity in this campaign and with this image — finding actual Body Shop producers and telling their stories — and the whole house of cards comes crashing down.

The irony here is that people who buy at the Body Shop and who are passionate about the Body Shop  are going to notice exactly this kind of thing.  The brand was once about authenticity, natural ingredients, and our interconnected world, and it attracted educated consumers who likely care about things like the environment, the well-being of producers, and poverty in the developing world.

I guess it’s not surprising that this once-authentic brand has gotten so watered-down within L’Oreal that it’s lost all of its distinguishing charateristics — and the passionate followers who once made this brand great are gone as well.

6 thoughts on “The Body Shop: when stories fall short

  1. Wow, Sasha. Talk about getting out of bed on the wrong side. What happened on the 21st October? Must’ve been pretty bad for such a bitter outburst. Why the cynicism? Cant you just take things at face value? Do you really think the Body Shop would score such an elementary and unnecessary own goal? In order to be authentic in sasha-world do poor people have to wear rags? Do they have to be ugly?
    I was Brazilian fixer on the shoot, employed by the photographer. The girl in the photo does indeed collect and crack Babaçu nuts and those are the (non-designer) clothes she was wearing on the day we turned up unannounced in the village of Tres Poços in Maranhão, Brazil. At the time we joked about her becoming Brazil’s Next Top Model. She didn’t. And if you think she’s pretty you should’ve seen her friend. The basket we found in a shed about 100m away from where the photo was taken.
    So to use a phrase of which you are fond: your comments are borderline offensive. Both to me personally, and more importantly to the local community who I sincerely hope will not be subjected to the drivel you have written on your blog.

    If you want to have a pop at L’Oreal go ahead. But here’s a great little journalistic tip…CHECK YOUR FACTS FIRST.

    You really need to get out more. Why not come to São Paulo sometime. You’ll love it – they’ve banned outdoor advertising.

    PS. Would you really pay USD75 for that bag? If so the village should stop collecting nuts immediately and re-allocate resources.

  2. I agree with Michael that it is import check your facts. But has anyone checked Michael’s facts? How do we know that Michael was in fact a “Brazilian fixer” on the Body Shop shoot down near Sao Paulo who just happened to come across this blog? How do we know he’s not a “French Cleaner” like Jean Reno in La Femme Nikita, sent by L’Oreal to scour the internet for any corporate messes which he is then tasked with “fixing” by dumping the offending blog into a porcelain bathtub and pouring acid all over the carcass? Just asking. Don’t mean to offend Michael if he is legit, but it would be funny if Sasha was correct originally and now the post is INCORRECT for lack of checking Michael’s facts.

  3. J-dub, thanks for your comment. Independent of Michael’s comment, I also received an email about this one. The facts lined up, it seems likely that what Michael’s saying is true.

    Here’s part of the email I received:

    “I work for The Body Shop and I was really interested to see your piece, as I’m sure there are lots of companies out there that would stage a shot like this, rather than being authentic like you rightly say brands ought to be. I even contacted the head of the Community Trade team at The Body Shop who confirmed that yes, this is actually a real person who’s involved with The Body Shop fair trade programme.

    Fact is, this woman lives in a small village in Brazil, Tres Pocas, her woven basket is the regular one, it’s not flown in to make the shot look good, and her clothes are her own. There was no announcement that day that someone from The Body Shop would be in town and photographing, so this is as authentic as you can get – other than asking her to stop in her tracks for a minutes. If you’re wondering what’s in the basket, those are real nuts too. She’s one of the women involved in collecting and cracking organic babassu nuts, and selling them directly to The Body Shop through Coppalj, the cooperative there.”

    (I haven’t managed to call up the Body Shop myself to verify, but it seems legit.)

  4. Sasha,

    Any brazilian would take that pic at face value. Kids like that are everywhere. It’s one of life’s misteries…very poor…very cute…and very happy!

  5. Sandra, I guess so. I actually have a Brazilian passport (my mother is Brazilian) and I’ve probably spent ~3 years living in Brazil, including about a year in Recife and spending a lot of time in the Northeast…and the image still struck me as somewhat incongruous.

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