If "grow up Harriet" becomes a meme, blame Protein World

Social media in general and Twitter in particular has become increasingly difficult for brands to find the right tone of voice to use in. It doesn't help either that most people like to use twitter to complain straight to brands, whether they are customers or not, about everything from delayed flights to choice of background color in a brands advertising campaign. Today, Protein World encountered a twitter-kvetcher named Harriet who voiced her disapproval of Protein World's current underground campaign by asking a direct question as a response to the billboards question: Hey @ProteinWorld, am I (a normal woman) allowed on the beach? You know, if my body's for me, not to please others?

Proteinworld's response wasn't your usual (archive) careful balancing on diplomatic words. Instead the brand responded "grow up, Harriet".

Surprised? This is actually Protein World's social media strategy. Coldly - and likely accurately - calculating that Harriet and other vocal complainers about the billboard aren't their target market, the social media account handlers do not block, but also do not entertain the complaints. Instead opting to turn it into banter that third parties find entertaining, among them their actual target market.

Basically, they're trolling as a social media strategy.

With responses like "We are a nation of sympathisers for fatties" in a conversation agreed to by the CEO who urges people to 'Get off Twitter and do some work!'", Protein World has seemingly taken on what I might call the "True Fruits" attitude. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

The posters have gotten a lot of negative attention, with people vandalizing them and tweeting photos of themselves flipping the bird at it or, like below, posing next to it in a bikini to make a point.

A Change.org petition to get the billboards removed has gotten over 30,000 signatures. But Protein World are not budging one inch (must be that ripping strong core). Instead of blocking or muting those who tweet the account, they're replying, thereby ensuring that their sarcastic responses are seen by an even wider audience. Considering that fitness protein is a niche market, bought by those dedicated to working out and staying fit, they as a brand will never be as well known as say, Kellogg's. But thanks to this, people who never knew the difference between Gainomax and Cellucor now at least know on brand of supplements Protein World, which carries its decidedly different style to the look of their products as well. No photoshopped flashes of lightning or busy metallic reflective logotypes, just a simple black white and bright yellow consistent style all the way.

Richard Staveley, the head of global marketing for Protein World has released a statement regarding the Change.org petition:

“We absolutely have no intention of removing the adverts because of a minority making a lot of noise. We sell our products in over 50 countries to more than 300,000 customers. Most of them are women. How could we possibly be sexist? It is a shame that in 2015 there are still a minority who aren't focusing on celebrating those who aspire to be healthier, fitter and stronger.

He also wants everyone to know that Renee may have some good genetics but added the rest with hard work:

Renee, our stunning model (inside and out by the way and falsely assumed as photoshopped!), falls well within what the British government deem to be a healthy weight (based on the BMI system)."

You can't please everyone, all of the time, and now there's a strategy in not even trying. Ride that outrage-wave to free media mention fame, brands. It's a bit like playing with fire, and obviously will not suit all brands but in the case of a workout supplement, it's probably a perfect tone-of-voice for its intended target. Renee looks fit, not emaciated, like she combined her supplements and balanced diet with exercise. The ad idea "Are you beach body ready" next to a pretty woman isn't a new one, we've seen this for products like Slim Fast and DynaTrim in the 70s already - it's the use of social media as a catapult to earned media that is.