Business News

Bomb threat over bikini billboard ad

Luke Graham, special to CNBC
A defaced ad appears in the London underground by Protein World.
Source: @cait_gc

The weight-loss company behind a controversial "beach body ready" campaign in the U.K. has said its head office in South East England received a bomb threat, amid widespread complaints.

Protein World's head of global marketing, Richard Staveley, made the claim during an interview with "Good Morning Britain" on U.K. television channel ITV on Tuesday.

"We've actually had threats on our head office. Physical, violent threats," he said. "We had a bomb threat."

Staveley added that the company had reported the threats to the police.

Protein World, a meal replacement and food supplement company that launched 18 months ago, has been the center of a Twitter storm because of its advertisements asking readers if they are "beach body ready".

Critics say the ads are objectifying and aimed at shaming those with less than perfect bodies.

Many of the ads have been vandalized. The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority has received over 200 complaints about the advertisement, according to media reports.

An online petition on demanding the removal of the ads has been signed by over 50,000 people. The petition states: "Protein World is directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model, in order to sell their product."

The ads are on display around London's underground subway stations, but will soon be taken down as they have come to the end of their advertising cycle, according to Transport for London.

This was confirmed by Staveley, who added, however, that Protein World hoped to get an extension from Transport for London.

'Irrational and extremist'

Chief Executive of Protein World, Arjun Seth, has been defiant. He said Protein World would only remove the ads if the petition were signed by 1 million people, in an interview with U.K. broadcaster Channel 4.

He also accused the online critics and ad vandals of being "terrorists," saying: "These people are irrational and extremist."

As well as the petition, a protest against the ad called "Taking back the beach" has been organised for May 3 in London's Hyde Park, where over 400 people may assemble to create their own version of the advertisement.

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On the event's Facebook page, the organizers said: "This was never about suggesting that people shouldn't try to get fit if they want to. If having rippling abs is your thing, more power to you. I bet you rock them. But I'm so tired of it being an expectation."

Staveley said the protesters were a "vociferous minority group" and added that the company was enjoying booming growth as a result of the media attention.

"We would just like to thank the girls and guys involved for their continued support and we hope they have a great day," he said.

"The company is enjoying a period of unprecedented growth at the moment partly thanks to this vociferous minority group."