Who: Protein World and the Advertising Standards Authority
When: July 2015
Law stated as at: 6 August 2015
As discussed in more detail in our previous report (here) Protein World launched an ad at the beginning of April 2015 that featured a model in a bikini accompanied by the slogan “Are you beach body ready?” The ad was criticised by many for its reportedly “body shamming” attitude and the ad spawned demonstrations, campaigns, vandalism on the existing ad posters, and parody campaigns by other advertisers.
However, despite the public outrage at the time, the ASA only received 378 complaints about the ad. If we were to compare this with 2014’s most complained about ads (see here), the Protein World ad would only rank as the 6th most complained about ad of the year. We can’t yet tell where the ad will fall in this year’s rankings, but some may be surprised by the relatively low number of complaints given the press coverage and negative publicity surrounding the ad at the time.
Of similar surprise to some will be the fact that the ASA found that the ad did not breach the CAP code. Complaints were raised that the ad (i) implied that a body shape which differed from the ‘idealised’ one presented was not good enough or in some way inferior and was, therefore, offensive; and (ii) the combination of an image of a very slim, toned body and the headline “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” was socially irresponsible in the context of an ad for a slimming product. Neither of these complaints were upheld by the ASA.
The ASA revealed that the ad had been reviewed by the Copy Advice team prior to launch who had advised that it ‘was likely to cause serious or widespread offense‘, however, despite this initial advice, Protein World proceeded with the campaign. Fortunately for Protein World, the ASA disagreed with the Copy Advice team’s finding, stating that they “did not consider that the accompanying image implied that a different body shape to that shown was not good enough or was inferior. We concluded that the headline and image were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence” Similarly, the ASA found that the ad was not irresponsible and did not encourage women to feel ashamed of their body shape. This might seem an unusual finding, given that there was such a large amount of evidence at the time to suggest that the ad had clearly caused widespread offence.
Viral ads such as the Protein World ad run a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not. Further, they risk the effects of bad publicity. Protein World appears to have been lucky this time with their ad sparking just the right amount of exposure and publicity, without causing any obvious detriment to the brand.
The position that Protein World were in was, however, quite unique; the brand was relatively unknown (even in the supplement micro-market) so there was little risk of lost goodwill; the target market for the advertised product appeared to side in favour with the advertiser, and a large amount of publicity was generated off the back of a very short campaign.
Viral ads are a risky venture, but this case goes to show how well they can pay off if the variables play out in your favour.
Why this matters:
There is little doubt that this ad was ‘close to the line’ but, fortunately for Protein World, they did not follow the Copy Advice team; they persevered with the ad; they generated a large amount of publicity from a relatively short campaign and the ASA did not uphold any of the complaints made about the ad. It is important to remember that, although useful, the guidance from Copy Advice team is no guarantee as to the decision that the ASA may come too.
The ASA’s decision is also highly topical, given the recent stance taken by Tessa Jowell in an article in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday 12 August. In the article Jowell stated that, if she became Mayor of London, she would “take action to ensure that Transport for London’s advertising code respects women, rather than damages their self-esteem.” It’s highly possible that Jowell’s comments were influenced by the Protein World ad so, should she become the next Mayor of London, ads such as the one in question may face additional restrictions and advertisers would need to pay additional consideration to whether their ads could have a negative effect on self-esteem or body image. In an industry that is fundamentally projected through a visual medium, image is key and such restrictions could be highly detrimental to the industry.