Pretty much every commute at the moment fills me with outrage. And it’s not the usual train delays/ overcrowding/ tourists standing on the left of escalators getting my goat. It’s the Protein World adverts currently dominating tube station platforms all over London.
And I’m not alone. The towering image of a slim, tanned woman in a bikini with the words “Are you beach body ready?” emblazoned next to her in huge letters has been lambasted by the public and the papers alike, and you don’t have to be a feminist- or even a woman- to understand why. The controversial ad for weight loss supplements has been criticised as sexist, body-shaming, and sending out the wrong message to impressionable teens. Angry hordes have been fighting back with online petitions (I’ve signed), vandalism, and of course, social media rants. Beauty company Dove’s even done their own parody of the ad with curvier models showing off their beach-ready bodies.
But it’s Protein World’s response to the rage that I can’t help but be grudgingly impressed with. Instead of the usual grovelling apologies spewed out by companies following a negative reaction to a marketing campaign, Protein World firmly stood its ground, replying to angry tweets by aggressively defending its stance. Responses included, “we are a nation of sympathisers for fatties #doesnthelpanyone”. They even went as far as taking on the f-word: “surely as a feminists [sic] Vicky, you understand that no one takes you seriously?”. The pithy “Grow up Harriet” response to one woman has now even become a trending hashtag for Protein World supporters.
What’s more they retweeted every single tweet about them, however negative.
Love it or loathe it, it was a masterclass at how to turn bad press to your advantage – namely 20,000 new customers and more than £1 million in revenue in just four days. Not bad for a £250,000 ad campaign.
Other brands that made good out of bad:
Domino’s “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign: In 2010, fast-food chain Domino’s ad campaign acknowledged how awful their pizza was, even quoting comments from customers saying their pizza was “mass produced, boring, bland” and tasted like “cardboard”. They then went on to show how they were improving their recipes and flavours. The result? A 3.4 percent rise in share prices.
Waterstones sleepover: Waterstones made the most of the Twitter frenzy following a Texan tourist getting locked in one of its shops by organising a sleepover in the very same flagship Piccadilly store. Collaborating with Airbnb, the lucky 19 participants were chosen through an online competition where they had to say which book they’d want to read on the night. This headline-grabbing response to what was essentially a mistake on Waterstones’ part led to fantastic publicity for the brand.
O2’s outage outrage: When O2’s mobile network went down, thousands of its customers lost network services as well as mobile and broadband connectivity. Enraged customers took to Twitter (although how they did without any network is a mystery to me…). But what could have been a PR nightmare turned to a marketing dream, thanks to the personalised – and often very funny- responses from the person manning their social media:
Customer: @O2 F**K You! Suck d**k in hell
O2 : Maybe later, got tweets to send
Customer: @O2 had to travel to Italy to get signal — desperate times!!!
O2: You can come back now. We're back in business 🙂
And our favourite:
Customer: Oi! O2! Because of you I missed a call from my dear old mum. For that I think I owe you a pint. Ta! 🙂
O2: Um… you're welcome, we think. But if your mum asks, we'll totally deny this tweet
As a result, anger turned to support and admiration for the social media stalwart behind the tweets. Impressive work.