Why Protein World has nailed it by targeting the 'No carbs before Marbs' market

While it may be unpalatable to metropolitan commentators and represents a lot of what's wrong about Britain today, from a business perspective Protein World's marketing is bang on for its audience, says Jules McKeen, head of marketing talent at The Talent Business.

Weight loss advertising must be up there with baby formula as a tightrope to walk

Not content with shaking up tube advertising with a poster screaming guilt into our milky-thighed masses: ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?, Protein World takes to the airwaves starting on C5 with its first TV ad. I can’t say we ought to be surprised. Here is a brand which was completely unknown to the world - a nutritional supplement with an incongruously steroidal name - right up until the point where it insulted thousands of women on the tube by suggesting (in many eyes, not in the eyes of the ASA as it happens) that their own bodies most probably are not ‘beach ready’.

So, putting aside the wider societal issues for a moment, is the advertising any good? Weight loss advertising must be up there with baby formula as a tightrope to walk. The TV spot is a moving articulation of the tube posters, with perhaps a little more evidence of exercise (in the Flashdance-styled sense) and the prerequisite early-20s Cara Delevigne attidude-y gurning to camera. No surprise there either.

Empowerment? No, thanks

Weightwatchers, in contrast, has enrolled Oprah to try to save the slipping subscriber numbers, focusing on being good to yourself - a long term strategy for any individual. Meanwhile, in a different but related category, Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ is a brilliant example of a campaign to get women and girls of all shapes and sizes getting into sport in some small, achievable way. Again, a long term, slow build strategy for women’s fitness and embracing a sense of the individual ‘taking control’ of their lives, giving them power back to be fitter and healthier. 

Protein World is not - nor does it claim to be - about long term health. This is about offering the lazy option. I don’t want to be empowered thanks, I’d rather pay for something to sort it out for me.

Just as Ryanair never purported to target the BA business customer, Protein World is targeting a demographic more preoccupied with two weeks of sun, sea, sex and sangria

There’s a clue in the fact it is airing - at least initially - on Five. Like ITV2’s TOWIE - with the rejoinder ‘no carbs before Marbs' which has entered common parlance - Five is the home of reality TV, where women are encouraged to judge other women pretty harshly, and by insidious inference, themselves too. 

Just as Michael O’Leary never purported to target the BA business customer, Protein World knows its audience. It’s targeting a specific demographic, one who is most likely more preoccupied with getting through the year keeping on top of their bills and saving up for two weeks in the sun, sea, sex and sangria. Their media strategy is bang on for their audience, and could easily stretch online to the likes of Foxy Bingo and do really rather well. (they can have that one for free, if they aren’t already doing it).

A glance online consolidates the view that however unpalatable we liberal, metropolitan commentators may find advertising which preys upon women’s insecurities and compounds a singular value judgment based on looks, we can’t deny that from a marketing point of view Protein World's got its audience nailed: a £1000 ‘little black dress’ giveaway at Missguided and comments online from users saying things like ‘Gonna keep this going til Xmas when I can pig out lol’. 

Cheesy execution

Weight Watchers has seen a significant decline in value, whilst brands like Protein World - who  capitalise on our Amazon Prime quick-fix, Instagram-fuelled attention deficit society - will do well. It’s possible, of course, that they - like Ryanair - do end up taking from a wider audience than they planned.

We all remember the opinion polls in the General Election, with everyone claiming not to want to vote for the Tories, then quietly voting Tory. The same could happen here; the temptation of a quick fix in July might tempt a few to purchase who frankly would declaim the brand publicly and righteously.

Do we have to like Protein World’s campaign to think the marketing works? I personally believe it represents a lot of what’s wrong with Britain today, and the cheesiness of the execution makes me wince in pain.  In fact I’m quite sure I heard a groan coming from Emily Pankhurst’s grave as she turned fitfully within it. But would we have heard of Protein World supplements if they’d done a nice, supportive, ‘be yourself’ ad? Not a chance. And will it work? You betcha!

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