Weight Watchers' New Campaign Reaches New Heights of Cynicism

It's yet more evidence that you have to be critical around food advertising, because -- ironically, given the level of woman-shaming going on around these parts -- when it comes to their own marketing ploys, companies like Weight Watchers have no shame.
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Ah, Weight Watchers.

Your ex-finance director said your customers were as likely to succeed as they were to win the lottery. One of your original spokeswomen, Bernice Weston, said "When it comes to food, fat people are basically very stupid." And in 2013, consumers spent $5 billion on your products in an attempt to lose weight.

And for your 2014 U.S. marketing efforts, you've come up with a new campaign that -- without a hint of irony -- shames women for eating, and encourages them to adopt a healthier lifestyle by buying the range of processed, chemically formed patties you call "food."

This excellent piece at The Frisky highlights what may be, for me, one of the most irritating, cynical marketing ploys yours truly has ever encountered -- but as it turns out, the whole campaign is built upon smoke and mirrors, in a whole number of ways.

Click here to watch the video -- where you'll find twee ukelele music (we're good people). Cue exposed brickwork (vulnerability); director's chairs (you're in control); cue 'real women' and wholesome blackboard writing (because it's about learning, right?)

Then -- because Weight Watchers realized they'd made an important discovery about women (namely: they enjoy food) -- cue PR stunt publicity campaign in Times Square. Cue vox pops from 'real women' with well-placed product references. Cue happy women, looking pleased whilst holding an empty plate even though it hasn't, and isn't about to, held any food of any description.

Yep, that's right ladies -- not eating is empowering.

Enjoying sweets, chocolate and takeout, on the other hand, makes you a wildebeest. Get in the booth and confess your sins to be immediately absolved of anything -- from the occasional extra cookie, to a full-scale eating disorder, the WW Confession Booth offers a one-stop stop for all your therapy needs.

Always intrigued by a quick fix, I decided to visit their website -- where, it turns out, there are no ingredient lists -- which is odd, given it's a product for the health-conscious consumer, you'd think 'what's in it' would be a pretty big question. Right?

The campaign page, though, is where things get really interesting. I'm a Twitter addict, so my first click was to the #cleanyourslate hashtag, to see who was talking about it. This user, in particular, popped up on the Weight Watchers' site feed -- and with good reason. She's hella enthusiastic, and appears to have posted a whole number of tweets on the subject -- many of which appear in threes, all at the same time:

If that isn't a bot -- or at least, a pre-programmed series of tweets from someone who doesn't appear -- or rather, admit -- to being affiliated with Weight Watchers -- I will eat my hat.

Here's another example:

Spot the identical middle tweet. Coincidence? I think not.

Then, I clicked the link -- the "ptab.it" link, that redirected right on back to Weight Watchers' website, where I could purchase the item in question. Ptab.it, though, is a link I hadn't seen previously -- so I tried to visit the root site there, to see what redirect program they were using.

That took me to a 404 on Punchtab, a digital marketing business who -- and I quote -- "deliver consistent personalized experiences across any channel -- digital, CRM, social, direct marketing, mobile and in-store."

They're right about the consistent part -- their consumers are tweeting identical things.

So, having concluded the Twitter users probably weren't real -- or at least, that they were under some serious influence -- I headed back over to the Weight Watchers site to find out a lil' more. I right-clicked a link to open it in a new tab, and as if by magic, I ended up landing on the following URL:


...Yep. Punchtab.

The campaign itself -- the digital aspect of the Clean Your Slate marketing campaign is, it turns out, run by Punchtab. Even their Instagram hashtag seems to be fake -- with almost all the photos published either by the official campaign account, one user who -- in yet more amazing coincidences -- seems to tweet many of the same things as the accounts referenced above -- and one by @punchtabsarah.

At this point, it seems like a good time to point to The Onion's brilliant skewering of 'social media gurus', where the speaker says:

Ideally, real human users will leave social networking altogether, and all that will be left will be thousands of robots, talking to each other -- who we can then advertise to. Now, robots don't yet buy products -- but that's not our concern. In the new social media economy, you just have to keep looking like you're doing work -- and people will pay you for it.

Now, it might appear that this piece is picking on Weight Watchers for the fault of their digital agency -- but let me refer you back to The Men Who Made Us Thin, and the interview with Richard Samber -- their former Finance Director -- who, when questioned about their appalling 16 percent success rate after five years, said that the business is successful "because the other 84 percent have to come back and do it again. That's where your business comes from."

In other words -- they're selling nothing. Nothing. It's a gloss, a sheen, some kind of smoke-and-mirrors affair designed with the sole purpose of making money. The false tweets, the fake accounts, the imaginary Instagramers, the holes in the execution of this Weight Watchers campaign are -- in a kind of poetic loop I couldn't even dream up -- a direct reflection of their entire business.

Their cynical, offensive attempt to cash in on the fact that women eating is still the cultural problem that it clearly is -- by hawking chemically processed ready meals like magical empowerment cookies -- is a ruse, pure and simple.

It's yet more evidence that you have to be critical around food advertising, because -- ironically, given the level of woman-shaming going on around these parts -- when it comes to their own marketing ploys, companies like Weight Watchers have no shame. They don't give a damn about your happiness or your health -- but your money?

That's pretty damn appealing.

And with their twee music, to the food-shaming, via the omnipresent cultural myths that Losing Weight Will Make You Happy and Hunger Will Make You a Better Woman, this campaign -- like all diet industry marketing, from SlimFast to the diet pill company that tried to buy yours truly -- proves that Weight Watchers will do pretty much anything to get it.

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