Harmless fun or misguided and offensive?

Posted on March 4, 2016

Marketing campaigns often sail close to the wind, but what happens when they hit a storm?

It’s long been the norm for marketers to want to stand out from competitors. To do this they need impact and more often than not will resort to shock tactics to to achieve this.

I’ve always said that it’s great to see a client that is prepared to take a risk, but when you have that freedom, use it cautiously. With today’s hyper-connected consumers, it’s all too easy for them to instantly either champion or chastise your brand across powerful social media channels instantly.

Offensive but successful

#1 Protein World

Remember the ‘Are you beach body ready?’ controversial campaign by the weight loss supplement brand Protein World? It prompted huge backlash after it was seen in London’s underground. At a time when body consciousness was playing at the forefront of societies mind, the posters were criticised as ‘body-shaming’ and promoting unrealistic body ideals in women.

They were eventually removed from tube stops in London after the Advertising Standards Authority received an unprecedented level of complaints (with over 70,000 people signing a petition condemning the posters), some even took to ‘vandalising’ the posters with counter body positive messages.

282D228E00000578-3062882-image-a-9_1430418983103 1352807_Simply-Be-responds-to-Protein-World-with-counter-ad-campaign

Responding to comments on Twitter that the company is “insanely bad at PR”, Protein World claim to have gained 5,000 customers in four days and have apparently boasted that their sales have tripled.

On the back of their perceived ‘success’ in London, they went on to launched the same poster campaign across New York, even publicly airing that the UK protesters had inadvertently helped pay for the stateside launch.

As a result, the company no doubt accomplished what it set out to achieve, it’s brand awareness went through the roof – but at a cost. The brand has now marked itself out as having no social conscience and little concern for its consumers, but at the end of the day I’m sure there were more smiles than frowns in the company’s boardroom.


GOU_009_Timeout_297hx225w_2_vFNL.indd#2 Gourmet Burger Kitchen

As much as I like an edgy campaign, GBK’s most recent was surely misguided.

Considering GBK do actually cater for vegetarians with a pan-fried bean patty, using such striking messaging is a big miss. It seems that the creative team wanted to change the minds and lifestyles of principled, dedicated, socially conscious vegetarians…

Or were they simply looking to shock and strengthen their footing in the carnivorous community by mocking vegetarians ?

Instant feedback

Either way, it went wrong. Comments flooded across social media thick and fast and after a too little, too late response from GBK, they pulled the offending posters but left work they considered, playful and not offensive.

gbkIn a statement posted on their Facebook page, GBK said: “We’ve been reading the reaction to our latest advertising campaign and needless to say, we’re quite taken aback.

Our intentions were light-hearted and not meant to cause any offence, but clearly we have, and for that we apologise….Having read all your comments and messages, we’ve made the decision to take down some of the adverts.”

In a survey of over 5,000 people, 53% thought is was harmless fun, 47% thought it offensive. Whether this will affect burger sales only time will tell. It did however have an unpredicted outcome, as the campaign broke in January, the Hashtag #veganuary started trending and other restaurants have capitalised by promoting more vegetarian and vegan options, along with discounts.

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