When Bad Taste Delivers Results

16 February 2016

It’s hard to forget the release of Protein World’s ad ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ which sent ripples (or perhaps tsunamis) through the media last summer.   Suzy Bashford’s piece ‘Do We Offend You?’, which appeared in this month’s issue of Marketing, references this particular example in her discussion of ‘the taste debate’ which seeks to answer the question whether agencies should play outside the boundaries of good taste or play it a little more safe.

My view has always been that if the point of a campaign is to get a brand noticed then surely it’s a viable tactic?  Take Barnado’s ‘Heroin Baby’ from 1999 when admittedly the media landscape was very different.  It made a relevant point in a shocking way that was arguably beyond bad taste, but it was on message, couldn’t be clearer and had the desired effect.  Job done.

To return the Protein World hoo ha, Bashford’s piece opens with figures from creative agency Grey London’s recent research revealing that ‘87% of people think it is “unjustifiable” to use “bad taste” to sell a product”’. Really? Bad taste is part of the British psyche.  I’m pretty sure we invented it.  And guess what?  Protein World saw their sales triple after the ad’s release and it gained 5,000 new customers within 4 days.

Would they have achieved that if there had never been a media storm?  Of course not.  So the protest that ensued when the ad first appeared simply added fuel to the fire and increased sales.

I’m not giving the green light to all bad taste campaigns as I firmly believe that the context, messages and content need to be relevant. But that’s true of any campaign.   So perhaps the real question is ‘how far should agencies be prepared to go as long as they are meeting their strategic aims?’

Phipps top five shocking food & drink campaigns:

Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s ‘Vegetarians: Resistance is Futile’ campaign (2016)
Heinz’ ‘Without Heinz’ cardboard ad (2007)
Absolut Vodka’s Absolut Beauty series of adverts (various dates)
KFC’s Singing Advert (2005)
Change4Life anti-obesity advert revealing the hidden fats and sugars in junk food (2013)




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