Mark Ritson: Five reasons why the Protein World furore is great marketing
The huge debate that has exploded around Protein World’s “Beach Body” campaign has made it the big branding story of the year so far.
You have to think back to the 2012 Mayoral election battle between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone for the last time two enormous tits so dominated the discourse in and around the Nation’s capital. Given the prominence of the story it’s worth stepping back and examining the five stages of advertising response that have played out in the “Beach Body” saga.
Stage 1 – outstanding advertising
It’s easy to jump to the scandal that followed without first appreciating what Richard Staveley and his marketing team initially achieved with their ad campaign. Best estimates suggest Protein World had about £250,000 to invest in their Summer awareness campaign. That pays for canapes at a big brand launch these days so the fact that the brand team went for the high traffic, even higher targeted medium of outdoor at the London Underground speaks volumes about the savvy thinking behind the campaign. The fact that they then doubled down with such an impressive/insulting* creative execution only extends the admiration marketers should have for Staveley and his team. *Delete according to your segment identity.
Stage 2 – immediate anti-advertising response
One of the great paradoxes of marketing is that you rarely know when a campaign is working on your target market but, as Protein World discovered last month, you get a very quick confirmation when it’s not working for non-target segments. London commuters not interested in a hard body for the Summer took offense to the tits in the face misogyny of the campaign and the unerring sexism underpinning the idea that women need to get “ready” for the beach. We saw an avalanche of instantaneous anti-ad responses that ranged from the traditional (scrawling “fuck off” onto the ad) to the contemporary (tweeting a photo of the ad with the words “fuck off” appended beneath it).
Stage 3 – organised anti-advertising response
We’ve seen this kind of immediate response to advertising before but what made the Beach Body response more visceral was the way it rapidly evolved into a more prolonged and organised response from outraged consumers. Protesters disrobed next to the offending ad in swimsuits and tweeted the resulting juxtaposition. Over the weekend more than one hundred protesters (again in Bikinis) attended a Taking Back the Beach protest in Hyde Park.
Stage 4 – brand driven crisis management
It was already remarkable but the next phase of the campaign evolution made it almost unique. Usually by the time we get to stage four the PR morons take over from the marketing team and apply the “three step model” of crisis management. First, shit yourself and lose all strategic proportion. Second, apologise for whatever has been done. Third, apply an appalling generic approach to communications irrespective of what the brand positioning is or who the target market is. Richard Staveley did not apologise for his campaign. Quite the reverse. He pointed to the 30,000 new customers it had recruited and the £2 million in incremental sales it has generated and noted that it had been a wild success not despite, but because of, the furious response it had garnered. ‘It’s been a whirlwind over the past two weeks,’ he explained last week. ‘It’s been tremendous. It’s an extreme minority that made a lot of noise. It gives us a platform to shout about our true message, which is “get off your arse and do something about it.” That last bit is particularly impressive. Staveley gets the concept of targeting and the fact that none of the protesters are ever going to be in the market for protein supplements. But he also understands that anything that generates awareness that is on-brand is going to be good for business.
Stage 5 – ersatz interbranding
In a final postmodern confirmation of the impact that Protein World has had on the British marketing scene we have started to see a number of branded responses to the campaign in which other brands take an alternative angle on the events of the past few weeks. It was said that Dove sent in a team of averagely shaped women to sort things out (although the brand denied any involvement) but the big award for mimicry goes to Carlsberg.
I think I remember reading somewhere that the Dove ‘response’ wasn’t actually from them, it just made use of their logo.
Unless they created it, leaked it (with their branding) then denied it for a subversive but non-litigable marketing method. This is getting confusing.
Have they invented “Converse” Marketing. We did this once but unintentionally. We ran a campaign using 48 sheets and bus shelters for Langs Supreme Blended Scotch Whisky using Lalands, the ancient Scottish dialect. It had headlines like. “Stoap. I’m Here for a Dram No a Drouchin’!” or “Michty! Dinnae Shougle Noo!” Well it seems there are erudite language profs who took issue over our spelling. The furore about the correct use and spelling of Lalands went on for months in The Herald. The Client, Lang Brothers , part of Robertson & Baxters’, now Edgrington Group, were most pleased. We got huge PR talk about. this is the ’80s so no SocMed. The campaign won a bunch of craft and creative awards. I wish I could claim we invented “Converse Marketing!”
The best brands don’t just help us navigate, they remove choice. They help us to know “yep, that’s the one for me.” When people talk about the paradox of choice, I just hear “undifferentiated commoditisation.” Protein World made a big yellow bikini-shaped signpost at that T-junction.
The brand does not show what supplements can do – improve quality of life for a longer time. Just checked their website and language was still about ‘weight loss’ not muscle mass gain, improved PVC, and improved ligament strength. ie if those models are on supplements, I expect them to be able to tough it out in a MMA type activity not merely fit into a Size 2 because they can transfer more 02 per cubic volume of blood. That’s the real difference between supplements and weight loss programs.