Dave Trott on Protein World: Are you marketing ready?

When I was young, doctors recommended protein powder for OAPs.

Old people often forgot to eat, and so they missed meals.

Protein powder helped stop them wasting away.

So protein powder was for old people.

As I grew up I began seeing protein powder in health shops.

They were selling it to body builders as a way to grow muscle.

That’s quite a shift in marketing terms.

Suddenly it was being sold in a niche market to people who exercised.

But then the real Copernican shift happened.

It’s called a "Copernican shift" because, until 1543, the sun had been thought to revolve around the earth.

Copernicus proved the earth revolved around the sun and, changing that perception in our minds, he changed everything.

So it was with protein powder.

Marketing people knew protein powder was about meal replacement.

People take it when they’ve missed a meal.

So the smart ones thought: what is the massive untapped opportunity that exists around people missing meals?


People who want to lose weight.

The way to lose weight is to cut out meals.

So exactly the reason behind selling protein powder to the elderly can be used to sell it to everyone who wants to lose weight.

A safe way to cut out meals.

Now of course protein powder won’t actually help you stop eating.

All it can do is replace the protein you may have missed.

But they can legitimately claim that protein powder "can help you lose weight as part of a weight loss programme".

And the diet industry is a massive market.

In 2014, in the UK alone, 29 million people were trying to lose weight, and spending two billion pounds a year doing it.

Which brings us up to date: Protein World.

Protein World spent around £250k on posters on the tube.

Not a big campaign.

A shot of a girl in a bikini and the line: "Are you beach body ready?"

But the posters have been defaced, and vilified across social media.

They’ve become a huge news story in the press and on TV.

Sixty thousand people were so outraged they petitioned the Tube to take down the posters.

The coverage across all the media was worth millions of pounds.

In fact Protein World say it got 5,000 new customers in just four days.

So controversy can be good.

But what interests me is that all the controversy has only served to target Protein World as the focus for anger at encouraging people to lose weight.

That means Protein World now has virtual ownership of the weight loss sector, in the consumer’s mind.

Even though it clearly says "Meal Replacement Supplement" on the poster.

In other words, it’s a weasel: it won’t help you stop eating.

You have to have the willpower to cut out eating yourself, this won’t do it for you.

But of course no one sees that bit.

They see: thin body, Protein World, I want some.

That’s quite a marketing coup for protein powder.

To move from old people to category ownership of beautiful bodies.

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