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.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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John Cobalt's picture

This is the only way to deal with moral panic, it's perfect!

Alex10's picture

emaciated not emancipated! :)

Dabitch's picture

Yikes. Never trust auto spellcheck.

Tom Megginson's picture

My favourite part was the fake Dove ad somebody Tweeted. Did you see that?

Tom Megginson's picture

Here it is: https://twitter.com/MTWTHRL/status/588621242032238592/photo/1

Dabitch's picture

Thanks. Some of the other tweets you've embedded into your post about this are pretty interesting as well.

I must admit, I am a sucker for ads that speak to other ads, even if it's navelgazing. In this case, Dove's brand tone is so established everyone knows it, and the social media team who yellowed up a response have great timing. Suits their brand perfectly.

David Felton's picture

Fun fact, they deleted this tweet within a few hours of posting it and have refused to comment why.

My guess - it got signed off by the UK Brand Manager, but when his/her boss (Global) saw it, they went apeshit and demanded it be taken down immediately.

Dabitch's picture

> Fun fact, they deleted this tweet within a few hours...

They? You mean Dove deleted that tweet? Your guess seems likely, but it's just a guess.

David Felton's picture

Yes, I mean Dove - as far as I understand. If you visit their twitter page now, you'll see it's nowhere to be found. Curious, eh?

Tom Megginson's picture

Thanks for the linkage, Åsk!

David Felton's picture

I'd love Tom Megginson to articulate to me how this ad is 'body shaming', as he states in his blog without explanation.

If we're going to talk about half-naked people in ads, then how about I provide some recent context for discussion.

This image was plastered on billboards and tube stations across London late last year to promote the new David Gandy underwear range at M&S.

I don't recall hearing any complains at the time from the same kind of armchair activists who are so vocal here. I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Also Åsk, you can stop drooling now.

Dabitch's picture

Jesus David, you couldn't have found a smaller image?

As I've stated many times before, sexist ads are bad for everyone and there's a difference sexist and gender normative... Two wrongs do not make a right (but two Wrights can make an airplane). You're comparing an underwear ad - where the actual product is shown on a model - to a nutritional supplement ad, where the models body is (presumably) the result of the product. Lets compare apples to apples instead, last month in the UK Bulk Powders ran a campaign with a completely naked man wearing only strategically placed pixels (image attached). I do not recall any uproar or outrage against this ad (there, now I made your point but with an identical product example).

In both the Bulk Powder campaign and the Protein World campaign, the physique of the models are (presumably) the result of the product being sold. So basically, they're testimonial bodies, if you will. Showing the bodies is thus actually called for. I would say the same if the product advertised was say, a core training class, gym weights or related products.

This is not like the "Studly Steve" eye-candy cariacature, where Zesty guy might be the best example, and some women actually found offensive (ew! Man-cooties in my salad, gross). The "Sexy Steve" trope got so old at one point that I even told Adweek that Studly Steve is as bad as Doofus Dad. Point being, these half-naked models draped across the hood of a car or cooking in your kitchen wearing only an apron are objectified eye-candy only, and actually distracting from the product being sold. IE; bad advertising. I hate bad advertising. It doesn't matter to me if it's a man or a woman in the objectified position.

Also, that non hairy man you're showing is not what I consider drool-worthy. But the man in my bed is.

Mattauz's picture

Best way to deal with these perpetual victims

dirtysteve's picture

Ever notice how often the nude/underdressed protesters tend to be fairly slim or not all that overweight? It's almost as if they have body confidence with a marketing campaign making no difference whatsoever!

Show me a large woman standing in front of that sign, not a pair of exhibitionists angry on her hypothetical behalf.

Sport's picture

"Trolling as social media strategy"

This is actually... Not a bad idea. With tube-posters there's a shotgun effect of hitting all commuters, regardless if they're your target market or not. The advantage is that in London, that's a lot of commuters, and your target is probably among them. It's obviously difficult to filter and find your bubble, the target, so Protein world are actually using the offended to help them. Like you say, they're getting earned media now, but also the spread on social media has gone viral. Not only that, some people are probably buying and trying the product out of spite to the people they disagree with.

Not sure this started with True Fruits, but it's quickly becoming a trend.

Asshole's picture


Pengtard's picture

I found this a lot funnier than I perhaps should have, but then again I am a complex man. The caps are a wonderful touch by the way, they really drive home the point in a brutally effective, yet subtle manner.

Anders B's picture

Dabitch, I may not always agree with your taste in ads, but throughout the years I have learned: you have integrity, logical reasoning for your likes and dislikes, and you're consistent. Which is more than you can say of 90% of the people who work in advertising who suffer trends.

I find myself agreeing with your reasoning here. Like you say it's an unoriginal ad, but a smart social media strategy. I'm surprised it's working though, I thought it would damage the brand.

Dabitch's picture

Thank you I appreciate that, and do try to be logical. It's the only way I can hack selling shit I don't like to subcultures I'm not a part of. Research, logic and aim it.

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.

I'll also note that the retweeted DOVE ad/tweet is in that Telegraph article.

blabla's picture

How did I miss this debacle?