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 change.org 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.
— Protein World (@ProteinWorld) April 23, 2015
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