Many of you will have seen the uproar in the press about this controversial advertising campaign by Protein World promoting a dietary supplement, asking if Women are “Beach Body Ready.”
My first reaction on seeing this poster on the London Underground a few weeks ago was one of incredulity. As a marketer and woman I find this kind of advertising offensive, ridiculous and just plain lazy. I naively believed that advertising which focuses on women having perfect, glamorous bodies was a thing of the distant past.
The reaction in London was instant: hundreds of thousands of people protested on Twitter. Over 70,000 people signed a petition to get the posters removed which eventually proved successful but not before many of them were vandalised with alternative messages such as “Stop Guilt Tripping Women!” “Love Your Body” and “F*ck Off”.
Now, just this week, the same poster campaign has arrived in New York. The brand’s marketing executive has proclaimed:
“It’s a big middle finger to everybody who bothered to sign that stupid petition in the UK.”
This reaction just absolutely amazes me. The comment tops off a murky campaign, selling in my opinion a dodgy product, with staff reacting bizarrely.
Reversing the Trend for Real Women
With recent advertising campaigns by the likes of Dove beauty and clothing company Simply Be, it felt like we were making great strides in being able to celebrate that we are all unique, we all have imperfect bodies but who cares! So that’s why the advertising campaign by Protein World feels like a complete reverse in this trend and is so thoroughly depressing.
Real women are not stick thin with huge boobs. Real women have cellulite, wobbly tummies, stretch marks and flabby bottoms. Our bodies, including all of our imperfections tell a story about who we are and where we’ve come from, whether they are stretch marks from pregnancy, scars from an operation, birthmarks we are born with or meaningful tattoos. Real women have not been air brushed to an inch of their life and are being plastered all over London and New York as a form of something that we should aspire to. Why should we be made to feel that this is our main aim in life?
Who Doesn’t Feel Bikini Nervous?
Most women feel nervous about going on a beach holiday in the equivalent of what is really just bra and knickers. When else do we ever get so near naked in front of so many other people? Just 2 months ago, I went abroad with my family and remember having the same nervous thought of stripping off most of my clothing in full view of the beach to show bits of my pale, nowhere near “Beach Body Ready” body.
This poster campaign is irresponsible because it is tapping into those niggling insecurities that all of us have. The difference is that I would never look at using a “supplement” to replace a meal, but a 16 year old girl who is far less confident about her body might. How many women would this advertising campaign affect negatively? Many may have seen these posters and felt despondent about their own bodies but how many would have felt driven to do something drastic like stop eating?
As a mum to two small girls, I’m grateful that they are still young enough to not be affected by this campaign, or to have seen the uproar on social media. But if I was a mum to teenagers, I’d be worried, fuming and also signing that petition.
No Such Thing as Bad PR?
Protein World has garnered so much coverage albeit mostly negative publicity that I have wondered if all of this controversy has been deliberately set up. There’s no such thing as bad publicity – right? But I’m not so sure that I’d want my business to be surrounded by such bad feeling or bad opinion about its product.
Something seems so inherently wrong when a company can manage to piss off so many of its key target audience and then strike fear and anxiety as a way of making a sale from the rest of its target market.
The reaction of the marketing executive about the London campaign was bad enough, but apparently the CEO has devoted much of his time and energy into retweeting his supposed supporters with tweets such as “I don’t care if he believes what he says, pissing so many feminists off at one go is brilliant.” How nice.
The world will be watching for New York’s reaction. I only hope they are as loud, outspoken and so united in their vehement disapproval as London. Maybe only then will Protein World and their delightful staff realise that they may just have to change their approach.
Do you think this is all a storm over nothing? Believe it’s a huge PR stunt or do agree that it was right to have this advertising campaign banned from the London Underground? I’d love to know your views, please leave a comment below.