The Body Shop and Dove on the ‘soft power’ of joining forces

Beauty giants Dove and The Body Shop believe the power of rivals joining forces should not be underestimated as they unite to take on the EU over animal testing.

Campaign murals have been created in key European cities. Image credit: Kristy Sparow at Getty Images

Dove and The Body Shop believe rivals can work together harmoniously for the greater good by committing to “transparency” and an alignment in purpose.

Usually competitors in the beauty sector, the brands have united to raise awareness of the European Union (EU) regressing on promises to cease animal testing in cosmetics.

Companies with track records of supporting animal welfare, Dove and The Body Shop have joined forces with PETA, Cruelty Free Europe, Humane Society International and Eurogroup for Animals to gain 1 million signatures to a petition the EU to roll back such measures.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Dove global communications and sustainability director Firdaous El Honsali and The Body Shop global director of sustainability, activism and corporate communications, Chris Davis, explain that being former colleagues (at The Body Shop) made it easier to collaborate.

El Honsali says Dove and The Body Shop joined forces on the campaign out of a sense of “responsibility” to call other companies into action, an argument which is lent additional weight by the size of their respective brands.

“We came together as two big brands because we have strong voices and being together, we feel we can make the change happen,” she says. “We are competitors, but at the same time we are going in the same direction.”

Davis agrees that the influence two big brands can have when they get behind an issue like this should not be underestimated.

We agreed to be totally honest. When things were going wrong, we never left anything unsaid.

Chris Davis, The Body Shop

“Our experience in The Body Shop, and being a trusted company like Dove, opens a lot of doors and makes people stand up and listen,” he states.

“Some people are quite surprised these two brands are united – our voices are getting heard and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that on decision-makers, on regulators. It’s a bit of soft power, but in our experience it’s very powerful.”

The companies have previously worked together on research and development, but their collaboration has been made easier by the alignment of their values and purpose. Transparency was also key for the brands to challenge the EU to uphold the animal testing ban.

“We agreed to be totally honest. When things were going wrong, we never left anything unsaid. That was a real human agreement between us and that ground rule worked really well,” says Davis.

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By having all their cards on the table meant the brands were able to trust each other and fully leverage their respective strengths for a common cause. The Body Shop, for example, owns and operates brick-and-mortar stores, while Dove has a larger digital presence.

“We are complementary of each other. We all have different strengths. The Body Shop is very strong when it comes to stores. Dove, we have a legacy of being very strong on digital where we’ve been pushing for things like guerrilla marketing stunts,” says El Honsali.

“In the end, I would say that it all came together. Where is the campaign coming from? It doesn’t really matter. It’s one collective working together with the NGOs to get it right.”

Fighting the battle

Davis argues that EU regulators are trying to get beauty brands to use “outdated, old fashioned barbaric techniques” to prove the safety of ingredients that have been used in the beauty industry for decades.

In 2004 the EU banned animal testing after campaigning from animal rights groups and brands, while the sale of cosmetics tested on animals has been prohibited since 2013.

The Body Shop and Dove argue that recent test requirements from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) “effectively destroy the bans”, pushing back the progress of a European Parliament pledge to pursue a global ban on all animal testing for cosmetics by 2023.

As part of the campaign, the brands have partnered with international artist and activist Nina Valkhoff to create unique murals across key landmarks in Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Milan.

The brands are also hoping to attract more companies to join forces with them.

If the marketer is using purpose just as a marketing tool then maybe they should think again about their strategy.

Firdaous El Honsali, Dove

“We’re just here to show that it’s possible, but now we need to be in this all together to fight this battle,” says El Honsali.

Davis explains that it felt right for Dove and The Body Shop to go out with the first message on this issue, but this is by no means a “closed campaign”. The movement wants to attract the attention of the entire beauty industry.

“It’s funny, isn’t it? When you’re working on issues that are issues of the soul, they’re a little bit different to issues of the pocket and the money,” he adds.

El Honsali points out that this collaboration is not just a “marketing play”, arguing that any purpose-driven marketing without meaningful, tangible targets to help the planet or drive societal change should be shredded and drawn up again.

“Purpose is about driving action and driving meaningful, systemic change in the world with something that we can see impacting lives or impacting the planet,” she adds.

“You need real targets and show you’re actually delivering on them. That’s what purpose is about. It can be a marketing play, but if the marketer is using purpose just as a marketing tool then maybe they should think again about their strategy.”