Special K ditching the quick fix is a much needed evolution

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

The thought of the Special K diet used to make me physically ill – and I never even ate the stuff.

I have always hated those smug Special K women, their trademark red dresses clinging to slim bodies achieved by a very simple solution – replacing lunch or dinner with a bowl of the cereal.

I never understood how Special K was allowed to make something so heinous the centre of its brand strategy. But I can understand why it continued to do it, as the “Special K diet” caught on in offices around the nation. I have watched many a dutiful colleague take on the weight loss regime, pitying their every spoonful of the cereal at an hour better suited to real food.

The Special K diet was neither sensible, nutritious or worthwhile, but it achieved one significant thing – making the brand aspirational and synonymous with being slim, attractive and confident.

Now, Special K wants to seal this status and make it officially the go to brand for healthy eating and lifestyle advice – see our news story here.

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It is to work with Glamour magazine and Max Factor for promotions and content, building on its recently relaunched My Special K platform, which offers meal plans, health and fashion advice free to subscribers, with content coming from partners MSN and O So You.

Members must hand over a host of personal data to access the content, as well as an app to help them maintain their meal plan and food diary.

I can make the educated guess that My Special K which feature heavily in its £5 million marketing campaign next year, positioning it as a free competitor to the paid for Weight Watchers model. I also presume Special K’s food range will expand beyond cereals and snacks to further compete on this level and become an all encompassing brand that has a presence in all parts of its followers’ lives.

With its raft of partner brands growing, I can see Special K becoming a media owner in its own right, a marketing platform for third parties to reach a lucrative, data rich market. On top of the brands I’ve already mentioned, it’s using its home page currently to drive people to purchase Ted Baker products in the signature red colour.

And, as it supplies more useful content to its subscribers, I would also anticipate the introduction of a premium paid for service. Like Weight Watchers, people also pay to join other diet schemes such as those run by Tesco and the Guardian. It’s clearly an opportunity rich market that cleverly plays to its largely female, image conscious audience.

Perhaps this new strategy can repair its relationship with cynical consumers like me who have regarded the brand with severe mistrust for essentially promoting starvation as a weight loss technique.

Brand manager Sophie Colling has admitted that women need long term healthy eating advice and not a quick diet fix. This about face moves the brand miles away from its old patronising identity and should bury the Special K diet well in the past, where it belongs.

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