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

Corporate & Technology PR bod at Ketchum with an interest in emerging technologies, online behaviours, sustainability & social business. Fond of fine food and drink. Member of CIPR & PRCA.

  • Michaella Biscomb

    Great article Matt, I have just been looking into ‘Social Justice Warriors’ for a blog post I was planning for my Digital Media class.. Whilst AVE’s/PR Awards etc are important to us PR people – do brands like Protein World really care? I was also looking at the point of people/companies being purposely provocative – The recent #AskSeaworld campaign was surely Sea World asking for a lot of online grief.. but they also used it to push out lots of documents that argued against the Black Fish documentary – even to those who didn’t mention Blackfish. I wonder if companies/PR Depts. are trying to evaluate risk vs reward – (esp with the like of Katie Hopkins around!) and whether bad publicity can actually be a good thing! (Especially if good publicity is lacking!)

    • Hi Michaella, thanks for your comment.

      No, I’m not sure they do. It’s difficult to gauge from that screen grab whether they actually do use AVEs as part of their evaluation or whether it was something that was quick to hand when a journalist asked about the ‘success’ of the campaign. I notice they’ve chosen not to include a sentiment analysis of those 133 clippings – which would have been rather amusing – but I think it’s safe to say they do use AVEs in some guise, which is still baffling!

      I think the ‘Katie Hopkins school of marketing’ approach is a dangerous one to take, I think you’re right in saying the PRs responsible for campaigns like #AskSeaworld are aware of the risk/reward nature of the campaigns, but it’s 2015 and they can’t claim to even begin to be able to ‘manage the message’ anymore.

      We’re undoubtedly seeing more of these campaigns that trade on social media ‘outrage’ (genuine or otherwise) to fuel temporary successes – and some that even look like the outrage was a false flag operation from the brand responsible – but I still can’t understand why you would risk unnecessarily exposing yourself to major reputational damage, on the offchance that it might pay off for a week or so.

  • djmarco123

    Why would Dove and Lastminute get a pat in the back but not protein world? clarify please!