Protein World Won’t Win Any PR Awards: And Here’s Why

The talk of the marketing and PR world of late, but the big question about Protein World’s ‘beach body ready’ campaign – should we call it a success or not?

Protein World Social Media Advertising PR

I think the key thing to remember here is who Protein World are targeting with this campaign – much like Katie Hopkins, in this case the critics are not the customers.

Remember the seven way leaders debate, when UKIP’s Nigel Farage spoke about health tourism and migrants seeking HIV treatment from the NHS? The comments may have been widely condemned, but those within UKIP’s target audience tended to agree with them.

Critics of the Protein World advertisements, and there are many, say the advert is objectifying women and trying to push weight loss products based on body image and insecurity, not promoting healthy living and exercise.

But the noise about the brand found online isn’t just from critics, there are swathes of supporters too – and many have had their social posts reshared by Protein World, among tweets defending their ads from users they call ‘social justice warriors’.

From Protein World’s perspective the social media outrage seems to be working well, with sales revenue topping £1 million in four days and follower counts significantly up. In fact, the company’s CEO Arjun Seth thinks it’s gone so well the PR department have been given a bonus!

But should they be rewarding staff for what many see as an exercise in exploiting insecurities, body shaming and being downright unpleasant online (see below tweet).

While this debacle, fueled by criticism, has led to an ever increasing rise in sales and a growing customer base, few – certainly those working in PR – would call it a success. 

Hang on, £1 million in sales and 20,000 new customers – that’s a success isn’t it?

In the short term, perhaps, but at what expense?

Personally, the advert doesn’t offend me, though I can see why it would others. That being said, I don’t think it was particularly wise.

The advert is currently being looked at by the ASA “to establish if it breaks harm and offence rules or is socially irresponsible”, however the company has already said more ads will go up in both London and New York in the next few weeks.

But for me the issue with Protein World is less about the advert itself, but the way they have conducted themselves in defending it.

As Iona St Joseph sees it,“It’s clear that the only thing that matters to Protein World is sales, and whilst they may have annoyed a lot of people, their actions are going to have enamored the members of the population who think being a massive twat is just ‘banter’ and the people running the account are ‘legends’.”

Some have called it ‘genuine integrity’, and others ‘pure idiocy’. I think Alex Smith in Marketing Magazine is spot on in saying they’ve opened themselves up to “a calculated hatred”, with those who disapprove of Protein World’s “brand of vanity-oriented self improvement pretty unlikely to be purchasing its products anyway.”

But this calculated hatred they’ve brought upon themselves, is not as irrelevant as some might think.

With it they’ve continued to reinforce a culture that has for far too long plagued the health and fitness industry – one of body shaming and the idea that there is a narrow range of what’s considered to be a healthy figure rather than a vast spectrum of different shapes and sizes all of which are healthy and people are happy with.

Now Protein World have amassed this support, they are faced with a difficult choice – what to do next.

They could go back to business as usual and take advantage of their new popularity through less controversial means.

Alternatively, they could go down the ‘all publicity’s good publicity’ route and continue with what they’ve been doing in the past week or so. Both choices have their respective merits, but I know which one I’d opt for.

Protein World’s Head of Marketing seems to have already made up his mind, telling Metro:

“We’ve created a brand with a real personality. We’re not a faceless corporation. There will be times when that potentially sails quite close to the wind. But, I certainly don’t regret any of the approach we take.”

So it’s a bit controversial – does that stop it from winning awards?

Not in isolation no, rightly or wrongly, plenty of controversial campaigns have won awards in PR.

The fact that this has coincided with such a tragic story of the pressure to conform and the dangers of weight loss solutions, is another factor.

As is the manner of their tactics on social media. Tangerine’s Jo Taylor thinks that “ultimately, it was its lack of empathy and willingness to take feedback that has inflamed the situation and could well have sealed its fate”.

I agree.

But what really, really annoys me is this – in 2015 people are still using Advertising Value Equivalence in an attempt to measure PR activity.

I really can’t stress how ridiculous this is, indeed most PR awards have banned AVEs entirely.

They have never been a useful measure of anything, are based on a flawed system and have no place in modern PR practice.

Given the rest of their marketing efforts it should perhaps come as no surprise that they are using AVEs to ‘measure’ their activity, but every time I see this metric trotted out I’m still shocked.

There are many, many reasons why ‘beach body ready’ shouldn’t be winning any awards, but the use of AVEs is a dealbreaker. And, while it may have brought successes, successful it is not.


Speaking of awards, and Dove both deserve a good pat on the back for these two brilliant pieces of reactive marketing.

dove react to protein world pr marketing

Matt Silver

CIPR Accredited PR Practitioner who helps technology companies tell their stories at Babel PR – a London-based integrated communications agency for brands in the digital economy. A PRCA member and Freeman of the Company of Communicators with over seven years of experience in strategic communications, Matt relishes the opportunity to get under the skin of complex issues, and develop integrated communications solutions that deliver commercial results for clients. Working with some of the biggest names in technology, Matt’s been tasked with everything from launching new mobile devices, to putting supercomputers on the international space station. A frequently frustrated follower of both politics and Scottish rugby, beyond the world of work Matt takes a keen interest in fine food and drink, as well as getting out and about in the countryside.