Weight loss ads and a craving for emotion

Marketelle's Jessie Sternthal on why marketers are missing out on a $7 billion industry.

weight watchersBy Jessie Sternthal

Weight loss program advertising.

Like any pop song, romantic comedy or first coffee date, there’s a formula we’ve come to know and expect from it – a consistent set of bright, cheery, optimistic ingredients that together, should in theory work. Ingredients such as the use of a spokesperson, often famous, who speaks directly to the camera about both their battle with weight and their success with losing it “once and for all,” a before and after shot, a technical program breakdown – the food, the plan and the rules. And lastly, the retail-y call to action: lose 20 pounds for $20 before July 1!

(What are we, second-hand Subarus?)

Quite shockingly, nowhere in this seemingly tried and true structure have most diet brands leveraged the one thing that weight loss is rooted in: emotion.

And it’s always baffled me, as both a 30-something who’s arm-wrestled with her own weight here and there, and as an advertiser. What a consistently missed opportunity. Admittedly, I’ve sought the expertise of a program or two along the way to some success and I’m far from alone. It’s estimated that Canadians spend $7 billion annually while Americans spend $65 billion annually on slim-down solutions. What an audience. I can bet, if one of these mega brands asked weight-concerned women in North America what they thought of the effectiveness of most of their advertising, they’d likely reply, “It’s fine, I guess. But where’s the insight? Where’s the knowing wink? Where’s the…you get it? I don’t really see myself in any of that.” And then they’d politely ask if there were any more mini banana muffins left. Okay, well, I’d ask at least.

The truth is, weight loss brands are like dentists. Nobody really wants to go there – but you gotta do what you gotta do. Deciding to start a slim-down journey for almost every woman I’ve come to know has very little to do with what the food is and what the rules are and even how much the whole endeavour is going to cost. It has, on the contrary, everything to do with “readiness” – readiness to make a lifestyle change that will at times be super uncomfortable. It’s a change that will test your patience, your limits, your self-confidence and even your will to keep at it all together. It’s an exciting, positive decision to make! But don’t be fooled – it’s a tough one. You will work harder than you ever have for that “after” shot.

But why, are so few brands tapping into that?

So few in fact, I could only think of two campaigns, out of many hundreds. (And, feel free to up that number in the comments box – I’d love to know of more).

Enter and applaud the latest spot from Weight Watchers, Australia, for example.

“Awaken your incredible” is a category-changer. It’s a spot that speaks to women (primarily, but not exclusively) in a way that is intended to stimulate their strength, not their willpower, and to dial into their greatness, not their weakness.  What a subtle but phenomenally important shift that is.

And there’s this one from Curves back in 2004. Nicely done.

But again, why so few examples? Is it because the formula works? Because we’re used to the wallpaper so why bother stripping it? Or have weight loss brands and agencies become so caught up with bodies that we all forgot about hearts?

Maybe. So for any weight loss brand – and all brands, frankly – who want to speak to women in a more resonant way, listen to them. Learn them. Go to dark, hard places with them. Celebrate little wins with them. Laugh hard with them. Because only then will insight misses, bleached celebrity smiles and freeze-framed before and after shots be replaced with genuine, honestly-rooted motivation to not only improve health and lives, but to improve some serious brand loyalty as well, across the brand spectrum.

Okay seriously. Where ARE those mini banana muffins?

jessie_1 Jessie Sternthal is a senior writer at Marketelle.