How NOT To Protest An Advert

Remember this?

This is the billboard ad that was placed in the London Underground in 2015. It caused outrage both online and offline.

Not only did numerous billboards get graffitied over, but it also spread around social media like wildfire and ended up on major TV news stations.

This is a story about how doing what feels satisfying at the time doesn’t produce the intended results. This is a story that exposes the sheer lack of media literacy among the public.

This is a story about how NOT to protest an advert.

Now. This advertisement was produced by Proteinworld.com. The featured product is a “Meal replacement” shake. The assumption being that consuming the supplement will allow you to look like the woman in the photo.

This is of course, utter bullshit.

A body like this can be obtained with a strict workout regime, a strict diet, weightlifting, cardio and the right set of genetics. A supplement can potentially help with an extra 1–2% towards your goals. And that’s all.

Like 80% of all products on the market in capitalism, it’s bullshit. To Proteinworld.com this doesn’t matter.

What matters is: Will it sell?

Like it or not, this advert is a masterclass lesson in marketing during the social media era.

Instead of looking at everything from a face-on consumer point of view, put yourself in the shoes of the creator. They have a job. The goal is to direct traffic to Proteinworld.com in order to sell products. Imagine you were in the marketing team. What would you do?

The main problem is getting noticed. Our world is jam-packed full of advertising. How can we possibly hope to get our brand name into the minds of the public through this insane clutter of advertising?

What about outrage? That gets attention. We just need to press the right buttons. Let’s put an impossibly beautiful women next to a patronising message. That’s sure to cause outrage isn’t it?

It worked!

It worked! And it worked better than they could have ever imagined.

Not only did it get the attention of commuters on the London underground, it got the attention of the entire world!

ProteinWorld got way more exposure than they paid to have.

Thousands of protesters against the advert did the unpaid work of spreading the advert and giving it 100x the exposure it would have received otherwise.

It even made it on TV news. Jackpot!

These protesters, who thought they were rebelling against the system and spreading body positivity were actually doing exactly what the marketers wanted.

And marketers around the world looked on in awe of this success. Wondering how they could use a similar advert for their own brand.

Increasing the likelihood that more adverts like this one will appear in the future.

The protesters of the advert presumably thought that their shaming tactics would put a dent in the brand’s image. Not understanding that all they were doing was causing a dramatic spike in online traffic for Proteinworld.com.

Online traffic that turns inevitably turns into an increase in sales.

Because the public doesn’t understand marketing. And the public isn’t media literate.

They don’t understand how the public decodes media.

How The Public Decodes Media

Stuart Hall — Media Theorist. Creator of the Encoding and Decoding Model

All media is encoded by the creators and decoded by the audience.

The creators encode the media with a particular message that they want the public to receive.

The audience will then decode the media based on their identity, culture and life-experiences.

What this means, is that the “Are you beach body ready” advert is going to be decoded by each individual in a different way.

Those in good physical condition will be more likely to decode the advert as inspirational because the image they see may be a genuinely achievable goal.

Those in poor physical condition will be more likely to decode the advert as offensive because they feel as though the image they see is genuinely unachieveable.

Femnists will be more likely to decode the advert as offensive while non-feminists will be less likely to do so.

Liberals will be more likely to decode the advert as offensive while conservatives will be more likely to decode the advert as inspirational.

(In case you were wondering, I don’t agree with the advert and believe it should be regulated against. But that’s for another article).

By drawing mass attention to the advertisement through their graffiti, tweets and retweets, the protesters put the advert in-front of more eyeballs. Many of those people decoded the advert as inspirational, rather than offensive.

And many of this group will end up buying a product on Proteinworld.com.

The marketing team at Proteinworld.com were well aware of the effect they were having and actively encouraged further controversy with the management of their twitter page.

And everybody takes the bait. As always.

Sending more tweets. Getting outraged. And further increasing exposure to their advert and their website.

Because the public doesn’t understand marketing. And they’re not media literate.

The strategy is this:

  1. Create a product and put it on your website.
  2. Purposefully create outrage by playing with emotional trigger points in an advert.
  3. Try to spread this advert as far and wide as possible. Once you can get the social media fire going, it will start fuelling itself as the public share it with each other.
  4. Sit back and watch the online traffic and sales roll in.

Until we manage to educate people in media literacy, marketers will always have the public dancing in the palm of their hands.