UK cycling brand's apparently obscene advert is proving highly divisive

Fat Lad At The Back's seemingly offensive billboard addresses body bias present within cycling and fitness industry

Two cyclists in a phone box
(Image credit: Fat Lad At The Back)

A new advertising campaign for UK cycling clothing brand Fat Lad At The Back, which it says focuses attention on the way larger people on bikes are treated within society, has seen billboards and posters featuring what appears to be a highly offensive obscenity crop up around London. 

The slogan used in the campaign is ‘Fat Can't, actually, fat can’, but by replacing the second 'a' with an asterisk the ads - created by agency Mellor & Smith - read as 'Fat C*n't, actually fat can', something that can be interpreted entirely differently.

Lynn Bye, co-founder of Fat Lad At The Back, admitted to Cycling Weekly that the controversial adverts, which the brand says are intended to highlight the issue of body bias in the cycling and fitness industries, have had a mixed-response from the general public so far. She explained that the new campaign was partly inspired by abuse directed at the brand on social media in the past year.

“Some people just can’t get past it [the new adverts]. It’s a word which is used frequently against our community, and yet people aren’t cross about that," said Bye, who explained that the campaign was partly inspired by abuse directed at the brand on social media. "Instead people seem to be cross with us using that word to highlight what’s actually happening and to draw attention to all sorts of issues.”

Looking through the brand's Facebook channel quickly demonstrated the mixed response. 

"Sorry, I think it's giving people permission to call us that. I hate that swear word, it's offensive," one person said. 

Another response read: "Misogynistic slurs aren't what I expect to see on my time line from a company I follow." 

Others were more in favour of the brand's new move. 

"The best advertising for me makes you stop and think. This certainly does that. Too many people will have been on the receiving end of this," read another response.

Fat Lad At The Back billboard

(Image credit: Mellor&Smith )

On Mellor&Smith’s website, the background for the campaign idea explains that “Fat people get called some proper nasty stuff. Our research survey showed that there was one overwhelmingly frequent phrase large cyclists are called by the public. Fat Lad At The Back doesn’t agree with the word CAN’T. Actually fat lads and lasses CAN do anything. Oh and we love a bit of wordplay.”

Paul Mellor of Mellor&Smith said: “It’s a red-hot insight; fat people are called “Fat C**t’ by the public when they’re on the bike. They’re told they can’t do this, and they can’t do that. But actually they can, and they do.”


In February this year, models in a social media advertising campaign for Fat Lad At The Back were subject to online abuse and trolling. Many of the abusive comments were removed by Facebook, although abusive messages are all too common on the brands social media channels. 

“Lisa [the model in the advert] was targeted for the worst abuse imaginable. It was just staggering, they were so foul and heartless," explained Bye. "We got all sorts aimed at her, messages saying she shouldn’t be on a bike, pictures of hippopotamuses, people saying the bike had disappeared up her arse and that she looked disgusting. There’s a whole collection of things you’re not allowed to say to somebody, but fat still seems to be allowed in society.” 

She added: “I thought I’m not having this, I’m standing up for her. I decided to start calling the abusers out, so now instead of removing comments I just put them on the spot and say things like, ‘what do you mean by that?’, we think that the abuse isn’t going to go away by ignoring it.” 

As well as putting physical advertisements out onto the streets with Mellor&Smith, Bye explained that the brand's use of the new adverts on social media is where the majority of the bad reaction has come from. 

“Most of the feedback has come from social media. If you look on Facebook, you’ll see that there are a few women on there speaking up about it,” she said, “it’s interesting because on the whole people have tried to embrace it but there still are some who don’t. It’s a shock tactic from us, and some people have accused us of going too far and said that there would have been better ways of doing it,” she added. 

Bye concluded that with the brand's reputation, they always intended on getting people talking about them and that the adverts will help them in the long term. 

“It’s supposed to say fat can’t as I keep telling people. We’ve just done it in a cheeky way, because we’ve never shied away from controversy. We’ve looked to be disruptive with everything we’ve done. It’s a sea of beige out there and sometimes, you just need to be different.” 

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