Mar 29, 2011

When "The Body Shop" Lost Its Ruby

Back in 1998, The Body Shop, led by founder Dame Anita Roddick, debuted its self-esteem advertising campaign -  featuring the generously proportioned, size 16 doll named "Ruby." 

The Body Shop, The "Ruby" Ad Campaign, 1998

The campaign, primarily in print and outdoor, evolved from a new strategic positioning developed by ethical communications consultancy, Host Universal. They created the iconic "Ruby" image of the naked red-haired doll, hands behind her head and wind in her hair, that became the embodiment of the campaign. The photographer was Steve Perry

Her rubenesque figure graced The Body Shop windows in the UK that year, along with the slogan, 
"There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do". 
She went on to appear in stores in Australia, Asia, and the United States. Ruby was a fun idea, but she carried a serious message. She was intended to challenge stereotypes of beauty and counter the pervasive influence of the cosmetics industry.

The Body Shop, The "Ruby" Ad Campaign, 1998

In the United States, the toy company Mattel demanded that The Body Shop pull the images of Ruby from American shop windows and served a cease and desist order. This was on the grounds that Ruby struck a passing resemblance to Mattel's iconic Barbie doll.

Then, in Hong Kong, posters of Ruby were banned on the Mass Transit Railway because authorities said she would offend passengers. Of course, the images of silicone-enhanced blondes in other adjacent ads were permitted to stay on the trains. 

Although the global campaign ultimately had to be dropped and abandoned all together, despite its strong yet simple message, it did reinforce The Body Shop as a brand which catered to real women. At the time, Randy Williamson, a company spokesperson stated, 
"Ruby is the fruit of our long-established practice of challenging the way the cosmetics industry talks to women. The 'Ruby' campaign promotes the idea that The Body Shop creates products designed to enhance features... not to correct 'flaws'". 
Ruby - the Anti-Barbie.

Personally, I feel its a shame that the Ruby campaign had to be dropped. It is so rare to see a cosmetics company challenge the ideals so forcefully promoted throughout the beauty industry. Perhaps The Body Shop or another company will pick up where Ruby left off and find a new and more successful strategy.


  1. Very interesting. My 3 year-old said, "Mommy, I want that doll!" when she saw me reading your post.

  2. Cool story Jay--I've never heard about this. Wish I had a Ruby doll--she rocks.

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