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Anita Roddick is no longer co-chair of the Body Shop, at one stage Britain's biggest international retailer, but she has studiously continued to shock and irritate the mainstream business world.

Shock because she is probably more antipathetic than ever to the moral vacuum that now passes for “free trade” policy. Irritate because – although she is endlessly invited to marketing conferences to expound on modern marketing – she is obviously deeply skeptical about the whole idea.

Body Shop actually won a string of marketing awards, but it was at a time when they had no marketing department. And except briefly in North America – where one shopper fainted while watching the Body Shop ad with a man with a tanning lotion bottle down his crotch – they have always shunned advertising.

The Roddick approach to marketing is that you have to tell stories, about real people in real places behind your products. If you step back from the rather self-congratulatory theories of brand management – the assertion, for example, by advertising agency Young and Rubicam that brands are the new religion – the importance of storytelling becomes much more apparent.

In practice, people are almost immune to the 12,000 or so advertisements they see every day – they have to be to stay solvent. In practice, the sheer smoothness of brands – the element of mind control that is just discernable behind the hype – is disconcerting and disappoints very quickly.

That is one reason big brands have been suffering around the world. This decade has seen major crises of confidence among giants such as Coca-Cola, Ford and McDonalds; and in most years since 2000, the annual Interbrand survey has shown more than half the world's biggest brands losing value.

It is a period that has also witnessed the strange theater of the giants HSBC and Interbrew fighting over the right to call themselves “The World's Local …,” which they manifestly are not.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2006

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