ANA Masters of Marketing attendees were treated to a case history from Cheryl Callan, Senior Vice President, Marketing - Weight Watchers International, Inc. Cheryl set the stage for the discussion noting that Weight Watchers sales closely tracks the consumer confidence index which has created serious challenges for the brand. That ultimate human ability to procrastinate along with the view that investments in weight loss are seen as a luxury by many compound the problem as Weight Watchers competes in the 3.7B space.
To tackle the challenge, Cheryl noted that Weight Watchers is not in the business to try to convince customers to lose weight, rather to inspire people to believe the can. To “stop dieting and start living” they’ve launched The Points Plus program which has been their most significant program innovation in 13 years. The results are bearing themselves out with 2 million people currently succeeding with the program.
One lesson learned through their efforts is that “talking at consumers” doesn’t work, it’s “like wallpaper”; it’s better to unlock the power of your brand advocates. Lucky for them they have many to work with; more than 2 million page views on weightwatchers.com and 1 million visits on Facebook highlights a large pool to activate on their platforms. To unlock the power of advocacy Weight Watchers has tapped into the fact that their customers were “social before social was digital”. Word of mouth was key before digital and that hasn’t changed. These social platforms play a key ingredient in the success as it gives members a place to connect and to share, speak the truth to one another and even brag about successes.
Weight Watchers has viewed celebrity endorsements as part of the problem in the industry, but given the right approach could be used as part of the solution. After sharing an amusing mash up video of celebrity endorsements gone wrong (no names will be disclosed to protect the innocent) Cheryl shared their views that Jennifer Hudson tenure endorsing Weight Watchers has been an unqualified success. This view was supported by a video clip from the ultimate endorser Oprah Winfrey who reacted dramatically and favorably after viewing Jennifer’s Weight Watchers spot.
What set this session apart from others was the dual presenter format where Cheryl presented the case history accompanied by Nick Brien Chairman and Chief Executive Officer - McCann Worldgroup who interjected throughout with higher level learnings and take-aways that all marketers could learn from, regardless of industry. Throughout the session Nick touched on and intertwined these key learnings; a great list to keep handy when thinking through most any marketing challenge:
- The consumer comes first, and the category second.
- You must find a simple human truth.
- Innovation can happen within the existing brand paradigm—change for change’s sake is not a strategy.
- Bring social media principles to traditional channels.
- Don’t allow copy testing to replace creativity and innovation.
- Learn how to experiment forward with your agency partner.
- Never underestimate the power of a big, transformative, idea.