Photo by @mirandafay

Get Ready for Summer

Posted June 3, 2015, under Gee Whillickers!

Summer’s almost here, and we all know that the best way to beat the heat is to converge en masse on the nearest body of water, wearing as little as legally permitted.

Summer advertising makes the most of this, showering us with fashion, travel, hydration, and fitness advertising. All of which are perfectly legitimate — but sometimes in their zeal to capitalize on “beach season,” a company might find themselves taking a dip in a sea change.

Surf, Sand, Sexism

Earlier this year, United Kingdom fitness company Protein World launched a campaign to encourage people to use their products. This is pretty standard; it’s the whole point of advertising, right?

Well, the problem here is that the campaign featured a very fit young lady with the words, “Are you beach body ready?” This is the sort of promotion one would expect from a body-building company — but the ads struck a chord, in the worst way.

Deliberately or not, Protein World has crashed into a growing movement against “body shaming.” The notion is that people shouldn’t be ashamed if they don’t live up to frankly unrealistic expectations of body image that are put forth by the media.

The Backwash

The campaign stirred up a lot of controversy, fast catching the attention of mainstream media. UK news outlet The Guardian ran several articles about the flap. Public indignation gave rise to a variety of responses: blog posts, parodic ads, petitions (with around 70,000 signatories), mass protests, and even extending to vandalizing the actual ads.

Feminist blogger Catstello and friend strike a pose.

“Plus Size” Model Ashley Graham

Carlsberg beer

We don’t condone vandalism — but we have to admit, this one’s pretty funny.

Protein World was quick to defend themselves; calling detractors “extremists” and “terrorists,” the company has remained unrepentant in the face of a tidal wave of protest against the campaign. Statements made to the press imply that creating controversy was the whole point of the campaign — a risky gambit, but one they claim was successful in spiking sales.

They may have had improved sales, but the controversy got them the attention of a UK regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), following hundreds of complaints. After an investigation, the ASA banned the campaign on the basis not only of the body-shaming, but the company’s claims for the product itself.

Undeterred, Protein World has recently launched the campaign in New York.

It’s Called Situational Awareness

We’ve talked before about how the media’s relationship with female bodies is strained at best, and this is another example of people rejecting a standard that has persisted for decades.

Whichever side has your sympathies in this kerfuffle, the thing to realize is that now, more than ever, it’s vital to consider the environment you are advertising into, and the company image you project with those ads. Once upon a time, advertising was shouting into a void. These days, the void shouts back, and there can be consequences.

Protein World chose to project an image rather stereotypical of the bodybuilding community — one of disdain for those who have different priorities, goals, or obstacles in relation to fitness. That might make a certain kind of sense for such a company — but for a growing number of people, that viewpoint is as outmoded and offensive as buggies and blackface.

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