Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast Go Separate Directions in Diet Wars

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Ladies, this is not your mother’s weight-loss plan! Weight Watchers—which also lately has taken aim at men—and Slim-Fast are overhauling their approach to marketing in more significant ways than ever, as the dieting industry continues to grow but also has welcomed new forms of competition.

Slim-Fast’s new approach is the more striking one, perhaps because the Unilever-owned brand has been dwindling steadily for years since it was synonymous with weight-loss products. Its new “Get What You Want” advertising campaign communicates the real reason women want to lose weight, and it has to do with sex appeal, not health and fitness.[more]

“I want to get into my new pants” says a woman in a word bubble in one of Slim-Fast’s new print ads; but a thought bubble on the right reveals her real goal: “I want to get into someone else’s pants.” Online videos start out vanilla but then, for instance, have one woman reminiscing about how much better she felt doing daring moves in bed when she was skinnier.

“Slim-Fast wants to connect with the modern-day woman,” Wes Boas, Unilever’s Slim-Fast director, told Advertising Age. “We want to get women laughing when they see our ads—laugh with Slim-Fast, laugh at dieting and have a laugh about themselves. We want them to say, ‘OMG that is sooo me.”

In a bit of trash-talking, Weight Watchers begs to differ with Slim-Fast’s approach. “We try and take the high ground,” Cheryl Callan, senior vice president of marketing for Weight Watchers, told the magazine. When it comes to losing weight, “There’s shame, there’s guilt, there’s all sorts of feelings that you are dealing with. So to go after the ‘better sex thing’ seems to cheapen that.”

Instead, Weight Watchers is pivoting from a traditional weight-loss message to a more holistic, lifestyle-brand position under its new “360” program. It emphasizes being more of a “health-care company,” as CEO David Kirchhoff recently put it, and is giving more effort towards being “good community-based partners.”

Weight Watchers is adding lifestyle and environment management to its well-known food-tracking point system (which itself was overhauled and rebranded as “points plus” in 2010 by adding in the tracking of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber). “We have to be in a position where we are helping people establish skills forever that allow them to start living in a consistently healthier way, with the outstanding byproduct of being able to put on a smaller pair of jeans,” Kirchhoff said in a video on the company’s website.

Weight Watchers enjoyed a growth spurt post-“points plus” but results leveled off last year. In part, that was considered to be because of more competition from online calorie-counting sites and other no-charge competitors, which also challenged other competitors in the traditional weight-loss business.

In reaction to the fast-changing business environment, Weight Watchers is taking its preventive-care emphasis into aggressive new marketing for its corporate outreach effort, a division called Weight Watchers Health Solutions. With preventive care taking greater precedence in medical practice and being encouraged by provisions of Obamacare, Weight Watchers believes it can get more companies to enlist its aid in this area by paying for the brand’s memberships and meetings for employees. New clients already include the New York Stock Exchange, NBC Universal and American Express.

Jennifer Hudson remains a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, but the brand has recently enlisted the help of actress Ana Gasteyer as well as Charles Barkley. 

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