Beach Body wars: Controversial posters spark social media backlash

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A London poster ad featuring a bikini-clad model next to the words "Are you beach body ready?" has sparked a social media backlash. But it also made Protein World, the company behind the campaign, around £1m in sales within just four days. This case study looks at the one of the most controversial ads on the year and asks whether there really is no such thing as bad publicity…

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The larger-than-life London advertisement for a weight loss shake depicts a woman in a skimpy yellow swimsuit has been called ‘sexist’ and ‘body-shaming’, with critics taking to social media with the viral hashtag #EachBodysReady.

After just days of appearing in London streets and tube station posters, the ad backlash led to an online petition to ban the posters. To date, the campaign has attracted more than 60,000 signatures.

A protest in London spearheaded by two bloggers is also planned. The organizers posted a photo of themselves in bikinis standing next to the ad, with the caption "We're beach body ready. Exactly as we are."

Defiant stance

Despite the negative reaction, Protein World remain unapologetic- and even took to social media to argue against the protesters. The ad was also discussed on Twitter and blogging platform Tumblr, which has a strong reputation for tackling social issues.

Richard Staveley, head of marketing at Protein World, said 84% of his customers were female and many said they wanted to see "aspirational" images to help them lose weight.

"We've got a customer base of 300,000 and we did meticulous research and spoke to a large cross-section of our female customers who said this is exactly what they wanted to see," he said.

Critics of the billboards have been adding the hashtag #everybodysready to tweets of pictures of vandalised posters with writing scrawled across it, such as "f*** off".

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it has received more than 200 complaints about the ad.

An ASA spokeswoman said the general nature of the complaints is that the ad is "offensive, irresponsible and harmful because it promotes an unhealthy body image".

Watch this video from ABC covering the issue:


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‘Rude’ Twitter responses

Protein World has also been criticised for responding rudely to tweets from feminists asking for the posters to be removed.

A tweet from Protein World's Twitter account stated it was "here to motivate, not commiserate" with the hashtag #getagrip:

Another responded to a critical tweet with this:

A third response said: surely as a feminists Vicky, you understand that no one takes you seriously?

According to its website, Protein World is "leading the protein revolution with a new and innovative range of pure, GMO-free supplements to help you become healthier, leaner, fitter and stronger".

Results- a £250,000 gamble that paid off (in the short term)

Protein World is a little known British diet shakes and supplements company that only launched 18 months ago. It spent just £250,000 on a range of billboards in a number of London underground stations

The increased exposure from the ad apparently made around £1 million in four days after being unintentionally boosted by the enormous backlash.

Transport for London said the poster did not break its rules, but will be replaced this week when its contract ends

The birth of a meme

As the controversy grew, other brands saw an opportunity to ltach on the the beachbodyready hashtag.

Online swimwear retailer swimsuitsforall created its own version of the controversial “beach body” ad, featuring plus-size model Ashley Graham in a striking bikini The image, which was posted on social media, asks “are you ready for this beach body” and features the model in a suggestive pose while wearing a black bikini.

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Swimsuitsforall shared the image on their official Facebook page with the caption “Yes we are. ALL bodies are ‪#‎BeachBodyReady. As our girl Ashley Graham says, “there is no reason to hide and every reason to flaunt.”‪#‎CurvesInBikinis ‪#‎SwimSexy ‪#‎YouveGotIt ‪#‎FlauntIt.”

The issue also played right into the hands of Unilever, whose Dove campaign runs under the strapline: “Yes. We are beach body ready.” This ties in nicely with its long-running ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ series.

And finally, in a debate about realistic images, this Fitbit response provided a healthy dose of reality.

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