(Rob) Lowe Carb Lifestyle: 5 Questions With Atkins CMO Scott Parker


Rob Lowe

Consumers have been moving Atkins’ way for several years, but a new marketing campaign by the brand marks a significant turning point: Atkins is embracing being a nutritional lifestyle brand rather than a classic “diet” brand by signing a celebrity spokesperson who isn’t on a diet but who embodies Atkins as a way of life.

While the new year is typically a time of the “big diet” brands launching new campaigns—Weight Watchers just announced DJ Khaled as its first social media brand ambassador, Nutrisystem is ringing the NASDAQ stock exchange bell with Dan Marino—Atkins is doing so with a credible and appealing spokesperson in in actor Rob Lowe. Not only is he young-looking and fit, but the actor also has been touting the benefits of a low (Lowe?) carb, high-protein diet for years.

How Lowe hit the sweet spot for Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Scott Parker and team—he’d adopted a low-carb, high-protein diet not to lose weight but to embrace a healthier lifetyle, the model of what Atkins called a “self-directed” or accidental Atkins devotee; he even ‘fessed up to cheat days. In a magazine profile with his trainer, he told Men’s Fitness back in 2010 how he managed to keep the years at bay:

Lowe confesses to a few not-so-noble yearnings: French fries. And cheeseburgers. And pasta. “The sad truth,” he laments, “is that you can work out until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not eating right, it’s over. I fought that one forever. I love to eat.”

After a tabloid splashed his bare torso on its cover several years back with the accompanying headline “Worst Beach Bodies,” Lowe knew it was time to tame his appetite. “He didn’t go on a diet,” says his trainer Peter Park, who also works with Lance Armstrong and a few of the Los Angeles Lakers. “He made a total lifestyle change. Rob is so disciplined; he just did it. He cut out processed foods and sugar and upped the vegetables and protein. He eats superclean now, and it shows.”

The actor, fresh from a turn as one of KFC’s celebrity Colonel Sanders and an A&E reality series with his sons, said he’d be “excited” to represent Atkins in helping spread their shared nutritional ethos. “He’d been living this lifestyle for a long, long time and believed in the science and liked the products,” Parker told brandchannel about the brand’s latest celebrity brand ambassador, following Sharon Osbourne, Alyssa Milano and country singer Lauren Alaina.

Atkins offers a wide variety of low-carb, high-protein products—shakes, bars, frozen meals and so on—as well as a robust website with recipes and nutritional advice. But the brand really doesn’t show up in the #TodaysAtkins long-form hero TV ad in its new campaign except at the beginning and the end. In between, there are lots of scenes of people enjoying eating and being with one another.

In the 30-second TV spot, “This is Atkins today / #TodaysAtkins is a life well-lived” Lowe states:

“A life well-lived. It’s not measured in pounds and ounces. Not around here. Not with Atkins today. Yep—that Atkins. I’ve been living Atkins for years, and there are millions of us who want to live healthy and stay well for all the right reasons. Today’s Atkins isn’t just a diet. It’s great food that’s rich in healthy protein and lower in carbs and sugar. So that’s how I live today. This is me, on Atkins. And you? Want to join us?”

In another 30-second spot, Lowe narrates:

“I’ve been living Atkins for years, along with millions of other people. We want to live well, healthy and long … For us, there’s no better way than Atkins. Today’s Atkins isn’t just a diet. It’s great food that’s rich in healthy protein and lower in carbs and sugar. It doesn’t just taste good, it feels good. And before you know it, feeling good on the inside starts to show on the outside. It’s not hard to get there.”

In “Shake Expert,” a 15-second online spot touting Atkins’ chocolate shakes, Lowe states: “A taste for chocolate milkshakes isn’t something you outgrow. Having lived Atkins for years and also as someone who’s an expert on shakes, trust me on this—these are awesome. Loads of protein, lower in net carbs and no added sugar. Just awesome.”

In another 15-second web spot for Atkin’s bars, Lowe says, more briefly: “Let’s say you’ve been living Atkins for years, and let’s say you have a killer sweet tooth. I mean, no-one’s feeling deprived here.

Lowe will also be sharing his passion for Atkins on his personal social media channels, while there will be additional social, digital, print and PR elements of the campaign.

Scott Parker - Atkins CMOWe spoke with Parker for more about “Today’s Atkins,” a company that he joined seven years ago from Jenny Craig, for insights on the brand’s new messaging and Lowe-carb champion.

Scott, Atkins seems to have won the war in terms of consumers’ intentions concerning carbs and proteins—but not necessarily the battle in terms of brand, per se. Fair to say?

It’s an interesting point. Atkins has been very influential in building a very generalized perception that too many carbs and sugars are bad for you. Whether we get complete ownership of that concept is a fair question. But we’re happy that Americans are realizing that those nutrients are really not good for you.

We’ve identified that there are tens of millions of people who are reducing their carbs and sugars without desiring to lose weight but based on an understanding of nutritional macronutrients. That’s great. And we have many imitators. But as long as people are moving generally in the right direction, we’re pretty happy. For the last 10 years we’ve grown at about 11% each year.

What is the public looking for from classic “diet” brands like Atkins and Weight Watchers?

It’s an interesting time. The highly programmatic or prescriptive approaches like Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers are actually doing well, but the language around losing weight is changing.

The word “diet” is sort of a bad word, as it implies very restrictive and episodic efforts that are hard to maintain. We, and other competitors, have responded by changing some of the language and approaches we’ve taken with respect to weight loss advertising.

Meanwhile a new segment of people has been created that we call “self-directed,” They already are reducing their carbs and sugars as part of a better overall effort for health and wellness. Weight loss and maintenance is part of that, but not the driving force. That’s a tremendous opportunity for growth for the Atkins franchise.

How is this change in what consumers want reflected in Atkins’ business and strategy?

We’ve determined that roughly half the people who buy our products have never tried Atkins to lose weight. They’re reflective of this very large self-directed group. We’ve done a lot of research on that group. About half of them are already trying to reduce carbs and sugars. We’re trying to reach out to all these people and make sure they understand that we make great products that are fantastic snacking options, and certainly better than most of those available.

How did that conclusion lead to the need for a different creative approach?

We’re bringing a pretty bold change in our celebrity spokesperson, who’s actually never lost weight on Atkins but rather has lived an Atkins higher-protein and lower-sugar lifestyle for many years—and attributes that for his vitality and youthful appearance and generally joyful life. That’s the ultimate culmination, shifting our message toward more lifestyle and wellness messaging.

How did you connect with Rob Lowe as the next celebrity face of Atkins? 

We wanted to reach out to these (“self-directed”) people, while at the same time we monitor social media and one of the things that keep coming up is that Rob Lowe kept talking about eating a low-carb, high-protein diet. The one question you can guarantee he gets asked in every interview is how does he keep looking so good. So when our people came to me I said that was an interesting scenario and wondered how genuine it is. So we reached out to him and the first thing he said is that he was beyond excited (to hear from us).

But we knew it would be relatively revolutionary to have a historically weight-loss brand come out with a spokesperson who hasn’t lost weight on it and doesn’t intend to lose weight. We did a lot of research which showed that it would be a great message for the self-directed people but also equally powerful for people who just want to lose weight. It normalized and contemporized the Atkins brand with both target audiences.

Rob is a unique individual with respect that he has equal appeal to men and women and to a broad range of ages. People knew him as early as The Outsiders all the way to his recent work such as in Parks & Recreation. It was a perfect match.

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