Protein World, Expert Brand Troll, Brings Fat-Shaming ‘Beach Body’ Ads to NYC

CMO's 'big middle finger' to critics

Protein World continues to kick sand in the face of its critics.

After generating controversy and much attention for its brand in Britain this spring with its "Beach Body" campaign, the nutritional supplements company is exporting the incendiary advertising to New York.

A huge billboard with swimsuit-clad model Renee Somerfield has risen in Times Square, with its tagline, "Are you beach body ready?" casting a shadow across 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Digital ads are planned for "every New York subway entrance," boasts marketing chief Richard Staveley, along with placements "on 50 percent of all of the New York subway's rolling stock. It will be an unmissable blanket coverage of Renee and yellow."

A few months back, the company reveled in the largely angry response the ads generated in England. Amid accusations of fat-shaming and perpetuating unrealistic body types, some of the street posters were defaced, and a petition collected 70,000 signatures demanding the company remove the campaign. Parodies popped up in cyberspace and the physical world, with Carlsberg's "Beer Body" spoof—complete with one of its bottles rocking yellow swim trunks—among the cheeky best.

Ultimately, elements of the Protein World initiative were banned by Britain's independent Advertising Standards Authority, "due to our concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims."

Through it all, the client maintained an unrepentant, in-your-face attitude. Its Twitter feed denounced England as "a nation of sympathizers for fatties," and CEO Arjun Seth compared those who vandalized the bikini-beach posters to "terrorists."

Of course, stirring up a shitstorm was—and is—the goal. And following its craptastic performance overseas, we should fully expect this calculated exercise in trolling to reek of success stateside.

"It's a big middle finger to everybody who bothered to sign that stupid petition in the U.K.," Staveley says of Protein World's incursion into NYC. "You could say that the London protesters helped pay for the New York campaign."

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@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.