In February, reality star Khloé Kardashian was at the center of a controversy regarding what some deemed an inappropriate and unrealistic ad campaign in the U.K. for Protein World. Viewers felt the images featuring Kardashian in a swimsuit were heavily airbrushed and sent a misleading message.
The subway ads featured the messages, “Can You Keep Up With a Kardashian?” and “Take the protein World 30-Day Challenge.” Users took to social media to call out the company for its controversial campaign when it was unveiled.
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The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also received 14 complaints stating “the ads promoted an unhealthy and competitive approach to dieting.” However, despite the backlash, the ASA cleared Protein World’s Kardashian ad, with Protein World saying the ads were “not socially irresponsible.” Protein World also declared that, overall, viewers of the ad campaign found it “motivating and empowering.”
“We considered that the ads promoted Khloé Kardashian’s body image as desirable and aspirational; this was supported by her pose and the airbrushed style,” the ASA stated. “However, we did not consider that she appeared to be out of proportion or unhealthy.”
The regulator of advertising also shed light on why it did not deem the phrase, “Can You Keep Up With a Kardashian?” in the ads inappropriate.
“We considered that people would understand the phrase, ‘Can you keep up with a Kardashian?’ was double entendre; to be understood as referencing both the popular TV series, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ which Khloé Kardashian appeared in, and the use of Protein World’s products to achieve a desirable body image,” the organization stated. “We further considered that readers would regard ‘Take the 30-Day Challenge’ read in conjunction with the former phrase and the product name, ‘The Slender Blend’ to mean that if they used Protein World’s products and followed the ‘challenge’ regime they could lose weight.”
The ASA ruled in Protein World’s favor after assessing that the ad campaign did not have a harmful message attached to it. “We acknowledged that the use of the terms, ‘Can you keep up with …’ and ‘challenge’ could be interpreted as having a competitive quality, but we did not consider that the terms or the ads overall encouraged excessive weight loss or other extreme or potentially harmful dieting behavior.”
Protein World’s ad campaigns have been criticized for supporting body-shaming in the past. The company made headlines in 2015 for its controversial “beach body ready” campaign.
Despite almost 400 complaints, protests against the “beach body ready” ad in New York City and the U.K., and a petition with more than 70,000 signatures to remove the adverts, the ad was cleared by the ASA.
“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 offense,” the ASA ruled.
The organization also stated that it did not believe the ad featuring the bikini-clad woman was dangerous to women’s health.
“Although we understood the claim ‘Are you beach body ready?’ invited readers to think about their figures, we did not consider the image of the model would shame women who had different body shapes into believing they needed to take a slimming supplement to feel confident wearing swimwear in public,” the ASA stated. “For that reason, we concluded the ad was not irresponsible.”
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