The Contentious Campaign: ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’

Last updated August 18th 2015

Many people have complained that Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign is offensive, but following an investigation, the ASA have not deemed the campaign offensive or irresponsible.

Protein World sparked uproar following the launch of a campaign entitled: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ The bright yellow adverts, featuring a slim, female model in a bikini, popped up throughout the US and the UK earlier this year, including on billboards in the London Underground network.

The company, known for selling a range of weight loss and muscle building supplements and meal replacement products, erected these controversial adverts in an attempt to attract customers who were looking to lose weight for the summer season.

Who is Protein World?

Focusing on supplements that are claimed to boost weight loss and muscle-building, Protein World is a health retailer that is based in Surrey, UK; they have several different websites for different countries, allowing for the products to be purchased all over the world. The company claims to be ‘leading the protein revolution’ by providing customers with high quality, GMO-free ingredients.

The company has a great range of products on offer, including meal replacement shakes (such as Protein World Slender Blend), and weight loss capsules (such as Protein World Fat Melter and Protein World Hunger Buster). The website also features an array of healthy recipe ideas and links to their social media sites.

Interestingly, Protein World Slender Blend – a low-calorie meal-replacement shake – is on offer in the ‘beauty’ section of their website shop, alongside capsules that supposedly have benefits for the eyes, hair, skin and nails. It could be argued that the placement of this product implies that losing weight is a requirement for beauty, rather than health.

Nevertheless, the company appears to be well-established and does not have a history of complaints regarding the products or customer service. Protein World is active on social media, with more than 430,000 followers on the image-sharing platform ‘Instagram’.

The ‘Beach Body Ready’ Campaign

The term ‘beach body’ has been the subject of a great deal of media attention in the past year or so. Many people believe that the term is derogatory, implying that in order to be seen in a bikini, women must alter their bodies by dieting and working out. The same can be said for men, with similar adverts appearing that feature muscular, male models in trunks.

It is argued that this form of advertising puts an immense amount of pressure on men and woman to achieve the ‘ideal’ body shape, and that one should be ashamed to appear in swimwear if they are overweight, or have a body shape that is different to those of the models that appear in the adverts.

This viewpoint is often claimed to be unhealthy; many argue that there is already too much focus on the way a person looks, and that advertisements featuring only slim and toned individuals can cause people to have unrealistic expectations. Reports of young people undergoing crash diets and experimenting with unhealthy methods of weight loss reinforce the concern behind this movement.

These ideals that are regularly portrayed in the media not only encourage people to undergo potentially dangerous methods of weight loss and body-altering methods, but also cause psychological damage. A clinical review of dieting in adolescents reported that data from Canada has shown that almost half of 12 to 18 year olds in public schools feel unhappy about their weight.

Clinical studies from around the world have displayed similar figures; the pressure to adhere to a specific body type appears to be a significant issue, particularly for young people, in developed countries all over the globe.

The Campaign Backlash

Almost 400 people from around the world have written formal complaints about Protein World, stating that their ‘beach body ready’ campaign is objectifying and oppressing women. An online petition against the campaign gained a striking 71,111 signatures, and protesters against the campaign even took to organising a mass demonstration in Hyde Park.

Protein World maintained that the idea behind the campaign was not offensive, and that they had hoped to encourage people to consider whether or not they are in the shape that they wanted to be for summer. They added that the advert was not meant to suggest that everybody should aim to look like the model in the image.

It was stated that the company behind the billboards and poster websites had discussed the advert with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) before approving it.

The ASA Investigation

As a result of the quantity of complaints that they received regarding the Protein World ‘beach body ready’ campaign, the ASA launched an official investigation.

The issues that were investigated were twofold:

1. Did the advert suggest that a body shape different to the ‘idealised’ shape of the model in the picture would be inferior?

2. Was the image of a ‘very slim, toned body’ alongside the headline ‘ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?’ socially irresponsible when considered together with the fact that the advert was for a slimming product?

Given the chance to respond to the complaints, Protein World (according to the ASA report) stated that the phrase used simply meant looking at one’s best – not necessarily looking in the same shape as the model featured on the advert.

Having reviewed the advert, the ASA deemed that no further action was required. The Copy Advice team had been contacted for advice before the advert was published, and at this point was deemed unlikely to cause serious offence. The ASA seemed to agree with Protein World that the term ‘beach body’ was common, but that it has a broader meaning than that which may usually be recognised (i.e. that one should feel comfortable enough in their own body to wear a swimsuit in public).

The ASA did not believe that the phrase used on the advert implied that body shapes different to that of the model in the image were inferior. They also concluded that the image of the woman being used in combination with an advert for a slimming product did not suggest that anybody who did not look like the woman should be taking a weight loss supplement.

It should be added however, that the advert, as it stands in its current form, has been banned due to concern that the health and nutrition claims had not been approved and authorised by the EU Register.

Conclusion

The Protein World ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign proved controversial, prompting complaints, an online petition, and even a demonstration in London. Although the issue undoubtedly remains subjective, following an investigation into the issue, the ASA concluded that the Protein World campaign was not likely to cause widespread or serious offence, and that it was not socially irresponsible. The advert remains banned in the UK due to claims that the health and nutrition claims were not approved by the relevant authorities. Individuals on social media have since noted the presence of the advert in a New York subway station, where it has not been banned to date.

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