Protein World has had a controversial month. It had its knuckles rapped by the (ASA) for misleading marketing. Shortly after it was chucked out of the trade group the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) – revealing a year-long dispute behind closed doors.
And then it went and launched its London tube beach body posters for its weight loss products, hitting mainstream press as Twitter raged with accusations of body image pressure.
The ASA has now received 277 complaints about the ads – up from 66 last Thursday. The petition that urged the formal complaints has reached 52,000 signatures – up from 32,000 last Thursday.
Asked if there were grounds for an investigation an ASA spokesperson told us: “We’re still assessing the complaints – they concern a wide range of issues – but we’ll reach a decision on next steps shortly.”
The agency is set to meet with the company today to discuss various aspects of its current campaign. One issue on the agenda will be whether the advert complies with its ruling last month, which concluded that the brand name ‘Slender Blend’ was an unauthorised implied health claim.
‘Slender Blend’ is still on its website as well as the controversial London posters.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Transport for London told us the adverts - many of which had been edited by protesters - would be removed from today after the three-week contract came to an end.
In a statement, they said: “We have received one complaint about it and we will be guided by The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and ASA if a similar advert were to be submitted again. We have zero tolerance towards graffiti on the network and take action to prevent it and remove it.”
In an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain, the company's head of marketing called the protest edits of the posters "criminal" and "extreme", and added that the company had received violent threats including a bomb threat on its head office.
But does all this spell bad news for Protein World?
The company thinks not. Protein World and its CEO Arjun Seth have been sending out customer tweets in support of the company. One read: “All publicity is good publicity.” He himself added: “Why Protein World is winning.”
Another suggested that the joke was on the "extreme" feminists who had inadvertently provided the firm with exposure.
According to a tweet from UK broadsheet The Telegraph journalist and ex-Loaded magazine editor Martin Daubney, it’s not just publicity the firm ‘won’, but sales too. The tweet, which appeared to quote the firm’s head of marketing, claimed the company had gained 20,000 new customers and made £1m (€1.4m) in revenue in four days.
Last week the firm's CEO posted that it had bought a new distribution centre in New Jersey for quicker delivery to US customers.
Tweets of support have also been highlighted on the company’s Twitter page.
The company itself posted yesterday:
Supporters say the company and its products encourage fitness even if all of its 'body ideals' tend to be cast from the same slender mould.
Meanwhile a protest on the issues has been planned for Saturday. The ‘Taking back the beach’ march invites those who look like the model, those who are size 24 and males in support of the cause to Hyde Park. So far around 500 are expected to attend.
Critics maintain that the posters are irresponsible and offensive in their depiction of an arguably unattainable and anxiety-inducing image of beauty placed next to diet pills.
The weight loss collection advertised in the posters included three products. ‘Slender Blend’ contains whey protein concentrate, its ‘thermogenic blend’, caffeine and multivitamins, equating to 150 Kcal and 31 g protein per 40 g serving. Its 'Slender Blend' Capsules, formerly called Fat Melters, are essentially high caffeine tablets with some herbals and alpha lipoic acid.