An advertising campaign condemned by thousands of people for “body shaming” women was not offensive or socially irresponsible, a watchdog has ruled.
“Are you beach body ready?” the now infamous yellow billboard asked, picturing a slender model in a bikini next to Protein World’s “weight loss collection” of products.
Its appearance on the London Underground in April sparked a tide of complaints, including a petition with more than 71,000 signatures demanding it be taken down because it made people “feel physically inferior”.
Demostrators marched on Hyde Park, women posed in their underwear next the poster in protest, it was satirised on Twitter and billboards were defaced, while Protein World’s supporters hit back at the “extreme feminist brigade letting off some bra-burning steam”.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had already banned the poster on unrelated regulatory grounds when the first of 378 complaints started rolling in but an investigation has now found it did not “shame” women into taking slimming supplements.
However, the advert will remain banned in its current form over concerns that its health and nutrition claims were not authorised on the EU Register.
In its ruling, the ASA said its investigation aimed to establish whether Protein World had breached rules on harm, offence and social responsibility.
Calling the model “toned and athletic”, it said the Copy Advice Team service for advertisers had deemed that the advert was “unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence” before it appeared.
ASA said that many people consider a “beach body” to be similar to the model’s physique but the phrase also had a broader meaning of how comfortable people felt with their “physical appearance” wearing swimwear.
The ruling continued: “We considered the claim ‘ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?’ prompted readers to think about whether they were in the shape they wanted to be for the summer and we did not consider that the accompanying image implied that a different body shape to that shown was not good enough or was inferior.
“We concluded that the headline and image were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.”
ASA ruled that although readers were “invited to think about their figures”, the poster did not shame women with different body shapes into taking slimming supplements.
“For that reason, we concluded the ad was not irresponsible,” it said.
Protein World argued that the “aspirational” campaign’s intention was to invite the viewer to consider whether they were in the shape they wanted to be and said the model was healthy and used their products.
It said it did not believe the poster implied everyone should look like the woman or that the text and image were irresponsible.
The Most Controversial Fashion Adverts
The Most Controversial Fashion Adverts
1/9 YSL, 2000
The infamous Yves Saint Laurent Opium perfume advert featuring a naked Sophie Dahl was removed from billboards as it was deemed "sexually suggestive and unsuitable to be seen by children", although was allowed to run in certain fashion magazines. It is the eighth most complained about advert, receiving 948 complaints.
2/9 Agent Provocateur, 2001
The lingerie ad saw Kylie Minogue writhe on a rodeo bull and was only permitted to be shown in cinemas. The campaign was banned from all UK television channels, except BBC1.
3/9 Wonderbra, 1994
Eva Herzigova's Wonderbra campaign was thought to have caused car accidents, such was its provocative appeal.
4/9 Dolce & Gabbana, 2007
The label's 2007 advert was banned in Spain after it was thought to "glorify rape". Designer Stefano Gabbana stated that the image was intended to show “an erotic dream, a sexual game”.
5/9 Miu Miu, 2011
Miu Miu's campaign starring Hailee Steinfeld, sitting crying on a train track, was banned in Britain, after it was decided that the image depicted a child in an unsafe location.
6/9 Marc Jacobs, 2009
Dakota Fanning was 17 when Juergen Teller shot her for Marc Jacobs. The picture was thought to "sexualise children" and was banned.
7/9 Tom Ford, 2007
A not-so-subtle message from Tom Ford, photographed by Terry Richardson. The campaign was banned in several countries.
Shot by the controversial photography Terry Richardson, this advert made a play on the word 'fashion junkie'.
9/9 Calvin Klein, 1995
Calvin Klein are known for a string of controversial campaigns (including a picture of 17-year-old Kate Moss straddling Mark Wahlberg), but this 1995 image shot by Steven Meisel provoked negative response from child welfare authorities and the consequently brand withdrew it.
Protein World's head of global marketing, Richard Staveley, revealed the company received a bomb threat following the launch of the advert but said it had been “a brilliant campaign”.
Eating disorder charity Beat called ASA’s ruling “extremely disappointing” and maintains that it is irresponsible.
"While we recognise advertising and the media cannot cause eating disorders - they are much more complex than that - we are aware how toxic images can be to an individual,” Rebecca Field said.
"While continuing to promote a slender body image as the only one we should aspire to, the Protein World advert advertises diet products, only adding to the harmful effect it could have on those susceptible to an eating disorder.
"Every body is different and Beat will continue to campaign to see a wide variety of shapes and sizes represented in the media.”
Additional reporting by PAReuse content