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Advertising In A Social Media Conscious World

In recent weeks, the health supplement store Protein World has been getting a lot of negative attention on social media from angry consumers, who have been most upset by their latest advertising campaign.


The posters, which mainly appear in Underground stations across London, feature the Australian model Renee Sommerfield in a yellow bikini, along with the slogan “Are you beach body ready?”, urging people to purchase their weight loss supplements for the upcoming Summer period.

The advert on display in an underground station, Source: The Guardian

The campaign sparked outrage over social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, with many users accusing the company of ‘body shaming’ women, asserting that it shouldn’t be a standard to which they should have to adhere to. The posters were defaced by embittered members of the public, and received a staggering 216 complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority. A petition to have the adverts removed currently stands (at time of writing) at over 50,000 signatures.


In the past, outrage like this would often dissipate, due to the lack of a forum in which people could vent their anger. Yet with the rise of users on social media sites over the past decade, it is becoming more prevalent for consumers to come together to voice their opinion – whether it be to stop George Osbourne taxing feminine hygiene products, or to re-instate Jeremy Clarkson after he was suspended from the BBC for punching a Producer . The outcome being, that the loud, shouty minority would almost always outweigh the silent majority.


What’s particularly interesting about the Protein World debacle is how their company responded. In recent months we’ve seen big name brands back down in the face of social media adversity – a recent example that comes to mind was with America-based domain registrar company GoDaddy. Their planned Superbowl advertisement featured the heartbreaking story of a lost Golden Retriever puppy returning home, only to be sold to a happy customer via their new website. The advert was released online prior to the big day, only to face a backlash so heavy that they decided to pull the spot. And yes, there was a petition to have this done too.



Some even suggested the whole stunt was planned in advance (not likely, given that the campaign had cost just over $4.5 Million, and in its place they had to run a spot cobbled together from stock footage at the last minute), however, what was true is that it got people talking about the company on one of the biggest advertising events of the year. They’re not alone – Amazon are no stranger to this strategy, releasing a viral video about a drone-based delivery service prior to the biggest shopping day of the year.


My Protein took a somewhat different approach. When their social media team was inundated with accusations of hate speech and even received death threats, they responded by standing their ground, and, steering into the skid.
Their head of marketing goaded on the ‘haters’ by announcing publicly that the response had been “Fantastic”, and lauding the additional exposure, pointing out the attention the £250,000 campaign had received had led to more than £1 Million in direct sales revenue.


Their team on Twitter responded to some of the more outlandish accusations with blunt direct responses, such as “Grow Up” and “Surely as a feminist, no-one takes you seriously?”. Additionally, they re-tweeted messages of support – in particular, ones from former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins, a figure known for her rather outlandish comments.


Even the star of the adverts herself came forward to voice her opinion, pointing out the hypocrisy of body shaming someone for being thin is just as bad as doing the opposite.
The debate raged on, and although a mass protest had been planned for this weekend in Hyde Park, some publications were quick to point out the campaign had already reached the end of its pay cycle, and would be removed soon anyway.


There’s no denying the fact that the backlash was a good thing for the company – and it’s fair to say with sales having tripled that despite the negative reaction it caused, the campaign was a massive success. One might suggest that had upset parties wished for this issue to go away, they should have simply ignored it – but it’s a tricky situation. In order to raise awareness of something, you have to raise awareness of it – it’s a catch 22 situation, which is why viral marketing success continues to be something companies strive to achieve.


Protein World seemed to have gotten off lightly – fortunate timing meant that the protesters will eventually lose interest and find another cause to fight behind, whilst the new business generated by the campaign will lead, if nothing else, to a nice quarterly sales boost (but most likely more than this). Although interestingly enough, the ASA recently made the ruling that the advert would indeed be banned, and could not appear again in its current form – but not due to social irresponsibility. Rather, their products were found not to be able to live up to their claims of speedy weight loss.
However, they will still be investigated for “social responsibility” and “prompting concerns around body image” – the repercussions of which are yet to be seen.


Perhaps we’re on the precipice of change. Perhaps today’s modern consumer has become easier to offend, or maybe just more outspoken when they know they are not alone. Either way, it seems that even if a campaign paints you in a negative light, it seems that in today’s social media orientated world that maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Or, to quote Oscar Wilde:

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.


You can tell Harry how wrong he is by emailing [email protected] Alternatively, if you need a Superbowl Advert turned around in a few days, give us a call on 02071278018.