The ads, which appeared on the London Underground network in February 2017, showed Kardashian in a swimsuit with text that read: « Can you keep up with a Kardashian? Take the Protein World 30 Day Challenge. »
ASA said it received 14 formal complaints from people who believed the ads « promoted an unhealthy and competitive approach to dieting » and « objected that the ads were socially irresponsible. »
But the advertising watchdog did not find the company in breach of social responsibility codes. It had sight of the adverts before they appeared and advised Protein World that they « were likely to be acceptable. » Transport for London also approved the poster.
« We considered that the ads promoted Khloe Kardashian’s body image as desirable and aspirational; this was supported by her pose and the airbrushed style. However, we did not consider that she appeared to be out of proportion or unhealthy, » the ASA ruled.
It added that it considered the phrase « Can you keep up with a Kardashian? » to be a « double entendre; to be understood as referencing both the popular TV series ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ which Khloe Kardashian appeared in and the use of Protein World’s products to achieve a desirable body image. »
ASA accepted that the product name, « The Slender Blend, » could promote weight loss, but it did not believe the ads encouraged « excessive weight loss or other extreme or potentially harmful dieting behavior. »
Protein World argued that the overall response to the ads was « motivating and empowering. »
It is not the first time a Protein World London Underground ad campaign has been scrutinized by ASA.The company’s « Are you beach body ready? » poster two years ago stirred controversy for similar reasons to the Kardashian poster.
Some 380 people complained to ASA about the advert, an online petition against it gathered more than 70,000 signatures, there was a protest in Hyde Park, and many of the posters were defaced.
Despite all this, ASA cleared the advert. Protein World even claimed that publicity from the controversy generated an additional £2 million in sales.