Bomb Threats and Protests - The Protein World Story Continues

In news which surprised no one, Protein World has reported a bomb threat against them, while protests are scheduled in Hyde Park for the weekend. But, I cannot stress this enough as UK Correspondent, 99.999% of Londonders could not give less of a shit about these ads. Even working in an advertising agency, I have not heard it discussed even once amongst colleagues. This really is the biggest storm in a teacup, whipped up by the mainstream media with a taste for a good story.

This is what is actually happening - on the ground.

A very small number, I estimate between 10-50 'in-carriage' tube posters have been vandalised by those who find them objectionable. (For those wondering what proportion of ads this represents, I have submitted a freedom of information request yesterday, and am waiting to hear back on the specific details). With regard to complains, they appears to break down roughly as follows:

1) These ads are 'body shaming' and/or 'fat shaming', because they make one feel pressurised into dieting or conforming to a perfect body.

2) These ads imply that only those with a "Beach Body" should be allowed to go to the beach. They imply that those who don't live up to a physical ideal are not welcome.

3) These ads are generally insulting/ demeaning/ upsetting, because the model is too thin and she obviously had a breast enlargement and I feel pressured into conforming.

4) In addition these ads are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle because protein power as a meal replacement isn't good for you.

It's interesting to pose the question - where was this small minority of extrememely vocal complainers when this ad was posted all around London only a few months ago?

Where was the public protests, the vandalism, the vocal tweeting and complaining about how ads like these objectify the human body. Look at him! He's not wearing any clothes! He's totally stripped naked just like a piece of meat! I can't believe what I'm seeing - let's go to and get that petition going.

The simple truth is that those complaining about Protein World are not Protein World's audience and never would be. This is why they're able to take such an incredibly antagonistic stance on social media and in doing so strengthen their brand and cement their fans loyalty, while winning new fans in the process.

Most people think we define ourself by who we are and what we do. This isn't true. We define ourselves as much by who we aren't and what we're not. It's an incredibly canny move on the part of Protein World to take this combatitive stance and say we're not you and we refuse to give in to your demands. Will we see more brands standing up to a loud minority, prepared to take offense at any perceived slight? In short - no, we won't. Brands are generally looking for mass market appeal and Brand Managers are petrified, I repeat petrified of alienating or upsetting their audience. I can think of examples from my days as a social media manager, but I'm probably prevented by an NDA from talking about them.

Brands will always be scared of bad PR, that much is unavoidable. But Protein World is a special case. As a Lifestyle and Fitness brand, their fans are defined as much as what they aren't as what they are. "I work hard and eat well to be fit, and I make sacrifices because I don't want to be fat" seems to be the mindset of their target aspirational consumer.

By setting up an opposition between those who are willing to work hard for it, and the 'fatties' and armchair activists who burn their calories complaing on twitter, they're only doing an amazing job brand building and picking up millions of earned media along the way.

Pictured above - radical social campaigner, more likely to 1) Threaten a business on a public forum 2) Use a crystal instead of deoderant 3) Less likely to buy protein powder.

But that's not all there is to is.

I'm interested in comparing this "Protein World" ad to other ads running in London right now, such as this one.

Where's the offense here? It's got all the ingredients, doesn't it? Aspirational slim model, edgy headline (this one seemingly insulting to Australians) and a woman showing off her "beach body". This is a multimillion pound campaign for some kind of Aussie breakfast drink and no one is talking about it.

Then again, no one is really talking about this Protein World nonsense either.

Previously in Adland : If "grow up Harriet" becomes a meme blame Protein World

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Blah's picture

"Will we see more brands standing up to a loud minority, prepared to take offense at any perceived slight? In short - no, we won't. Brands are generally looking for mass market appeal and Brand Managers are petrified, I repeat petrified of alienating or upsetting their audience."

The few dozen people whining on Twitter are usually not a very large part of the audience. Personally I know that I lose a lot of respect and will continue to buy other products if I see that a brand buckles and pays homage to the Offenderati and for instance change their work or stop a marketing campaign. There's barely anything out there that I would consider worse. I could probably find out that one of the team was part of the National Socialist party or has commited gang crimes and I'd be more likely to just tangentially notice and move on than if they show a complete lack of spine in their personal beliefs and work and change their media campaign or products because there were a few people "offended" on Twitter. I prefer buying True Fruits to other juices now for instance. I liked their marketing before, for instance they had a text saying "FREE BEER" and a funny bit about having mostly a female audience and trying to attract a male audience which amused me. Giving in and removing their marketing campaign when people complained would have likely made me stop buying their products, instead their stood by their brand and I like them more than ever before.

Tom Megginson's picture

The ads are run-of-the-mill garbage. It was their determined social media trolling of everyone who complained that really made this blow up. I think they're assholes, and they're appealing to assholes. I guess it pays to know your target audience. Of assholes.

David Felton's picture

I like this ad from an art direction perspective; graphically I think it's really strong. Conceptually, well it's just a girl in a bikini with a cliche "beach body" line - nothing special.

The only reason some people are talking about it right now, and "Protein World" is having it's moment in the limelight, is because the vandalism (which normally would have gone unnoticed) is being amplified and blown out of proportion by social media. Those who are taking it upon themselves to write upon the poster (with a biro no less - can't we at least commit to proper marker pen?), are exactly the same kind of people who are immediately snapping the results and posting across the social web. It's pretty transparent stuff.

And who wins? Protein World of course. This is incredible, once-in-a-lifetime publicity and earned media. They're banking the results and handing out bonuses, if their statements can be believed. Just shows you, eh? Why back down when you can ride the moral panic dollar and the social outrage dollar and turn it into goodwill and cash.

Dabitch's picture

The asshole dollar, HUUUGE market. (Paraphrasing, of course)

Sorry, I'll elaborate: While it's not par for the course to troll on twitter to extend a rather mediocre poster with the same headline we see on countless magazine covers every April, I think Protein World may have accidentally struck gold here. It may not have been their original plan at all, but they caught a whiff of a current trend, a mood among the consumers, and rode it, they refused to apologize (and instead antagonized) for their billboards, which frankly (as proven by David above) aren't all that different from other billboards currently running in the London underground. With the CEO and another higher up taking over the twitter account to shoot out smartarse replies, they bought themselves much earned media, which will continue long after this campaign has stopped.

E. Bradley's picture

For Jeebus sakes! Fat Shaming is the New Bad Word

Dabitch's picture

The ASA (advertising standards authority) have received complaints and will look into it. The campaign has run its course and the posters are being replaced by new adverts. The most the ASA can ever do is say" that ad can not run again in its current form" which an ad tends not to do anyway once it has finished its run.