Dumping Reputation In Pursuit Of Sales

Should you pander to people you believe spend their time being professionally offended? Is corporate reputation more important than sales? Not according to Arjun Seth, CEO of Protein World.

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His 18 months old weight-losssupplement company launched an advertising campaign on London Underground last month. The posters pictured an athletic, bikini-clad model under the line "Are You Beach Body Ready?"

Condemned online and in mainstream media, criticism centred on the promotion of a very narrow ideal of what body shape constitutes good and appropriate for the beach. Commuters took to vandalising the adverts to promote their own messages about body image; a petition was signed by 70,000 people.

But as the backlash grew, not only did the company not back down but it vigorously counter-attacked. Its head of marketing was quoted as saying:

"It’s been quite odd how many people are far quicker to ‘fit shame’ than ‘fat shame’. And, you know, if that makes us bad, then so be it". The company’s Twitter tone followed suit, using the hashtag #getagrip to bat away criticism of it being unprofessional, childish and arrogant.

The response of Arjun Seth to the controversy told us where his priorities lay: "It’s good - we gained about 20,000 followers in the last few days. Sales have gone up significantly. What people like is we are standing up for our brand".

Protein World is not trying to be all things to all people. It sees itself as a champion for a segmented audience; that having a particular character is more valuable. Which is why being hated doesn’t seem to faze Arjun Seth. He sees his company establishing its brand voice and generating huge awareness, new sales and new followers: "It’s not a problem as long as our customer base keeps on growing. We are a small British manufacturer. We don’t like backing down to a few people".

And therein lies the rub. "As long as our customer base keeps on growing".

Learning Points:

Protein World may well believe that its critics will never be its customers. But it is a bold decision to deliberately antagonise audiences. What happens when the customer base stops growing?

Sales may have been boosted in the short term but the long-term damage to its corporate reputation will cause difficulties. There are plenty of potential customers who will have been turned off Protein World. There are plenty of competitors who will take advantage of this.

If your corporate reputation becomes a hindrance it could cost more in time and money to rectify it than the profit you made from the extra sales.

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