28 January 2010

Media: fatphobia as viral marketing strategy

I posted something on the UK Fat Studies board a couple of weeks ago about an emerging trend, and I'm restating it here in the hopes of generating a discussion.

Twice in the past few weeks I've had emails from people who wouldn't normally get involved in fat stuff. They've sent me links to news stories in case I've missed them, because they've noticed something fatphobic in the press and are perhaps aghast at it.

The two stories that have generated the most consternation are the pieces about BeautifulPeople.com and Whole Foods. I'll recap briefly:

a) BeautifulPeople.com is a dating site and in January they issued a press release stating that they were kicking people off their site if it appeared that they had gained weight over the holiday period. I won't get into how they might know if people have gained weight. Perhaps they pay people to sift through their users' pictures and select the 5,000 fattest for the chop? As I said on FSUK: Do they even have any staffers? I bet it's a really small operation. Do they even have 5,000 members? Where's the evidence? The whole thing sounds completely made up and fishy. I think they're just trying to build a brand that they hope will appeal to 'phobes. This also interests me! Are fatphobes now a niche market?

b) Whole Foods is an upmarket grocery chain in the US that has an outlet in London and possibly does business elsewhere (sorry, I can't be bothered to look it up). This week the CEO said that employees who maintained a low BMI would get increased staff discounts.

Being obnoxious to grab attention is not a new marketing strategy, especially not where fatties are involved. But what I think is different is that it's not just people like me refuting the claims of BeautifulPeople or Whole Foods, but regular people who aren't obsessed by fat stuff in the way that I am. You know, nice, normal people. Both of these companies have managed to grab everyone's attention quite powerfully, everyone's talking about their brands, with minimal outlay. They're the ultimate winners in a sea of hand-wringing.

So I'm wondering if both companies are using both common-or-garden fatphobia as well as public opprobrium against fatphobia to attract publicity on the cheap.

Thoughts please!


Elizebeth said...

This is an interesting thought. But I'm not sure I see the positive in this scenario.

I just can't see how, from a marketing perspective, they'd believe ANY press outweighs a negative association.

I would tend to think their focusing on getting support for their wellness initiative, which is an idea many people have positive associations with, as compared to aiming for a scandal by promoting fatphobia.

That idea seems a little far fetched to me...but, then again, maybe I'm being naive.

I've been a whole foods customer for years becasue of my foods allergies, but I'm now stridently boycotting them.

Even my husband, who follows different online communities than I do, but who usually hears about the big news in FA (albeit days after I do), has heard about people railing becasue whole foods in implementing a negative policy.
If their intent was to gain negative they've sure succeed.

I suppose if they pull the policy it would be easier for me to believe this scenario. Because, I have to admit, such an act would garner good will with me.

I would return as a customer, if they are willing to give up on the current bigoted policy.

The Adipositivity Project said...

BeautifulPeople.com seemed to indeed be dipping their toe into the pool of "no such thing as bad publicity," but in the case of Whole Foods, I believe we're looking at simple deep-dish ignorance.

To me, the most glaring examples of obnoxiousness-as-promo-strategy are PETA's campaigns. PETA's no stranger to zealous incivility, but the notorious "Save the Whales" billboard in Jacksonville, FL really took the cake. We all saw the frame-filling photo of the billboard. It was all over the internet. But only once--and after much hunting--did I find a pulled-back shot including the billboard's surroundings. The damn thing was in a somewhat desolate, wooded area on a 2-lane road. PETA knew the sole backroads sign would be heard 'round the world. No need to spend money on more than one, perhaps on a highway or in a more populated area.

Clever fuckers.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Elizebeth, no it's not positive!

I think that BeautifulPeople's campaign was very successful, even with the negative publicity. Who had heard of them before this press release? Now many people know their brand, what it stands for, and people who want what they're offering can go straight to them. And all for very little advertising cost. Smart, eh?