Charlotte Rogers: Weight Watchers is in danger of losing its brand identity with wellness refresh

Five decades after the original diet brand started out in New York, Weight Watchers has rebranded as WW to take a slice of the wellness market, but it risks diluting its identity in the process.

After 55 years, weight loss giant Weight Watchers is changing its name to WW to capitalise on the global wellness boom.

Making a conscious decision to drop the word ‘weight’, the rebrand to WW comes complete with a new tagline: ‘Wellness that works’.

The logo, colour palette and font have all been designed to reflect the company’s evolution from weight loss business to a health and wellness brand, ready to fight it out with the likes of Fitbit and meal plan specialists such as Hello Fresh and Detox Kitchen.

Reflecting on the rebrand, chief executive Mindy Grossman told the Financial Times on Monday (24 September) that while there was nothing wrong with the name Weight Watchers, if the company was going to present itself as a “wellness brand for all” its focus needed to be on “more than just weight”.

Central to the rebrand is Weight Watchers’ desire to reimagine itself as a “technology experience company”.

The rebrand could put Weight Watchers in danger of losing the very identity that helped it garner a legion of fans in the first place.

Focusing on the opportunities for social media-style engagement, WW is launching Connect Groups, a series of communities where members can find liked-minded individuals based on their activities, food habits and general mindset.

The app, which currently has 1.8 million unique users a month, will feature the WellnessWins rewards programme, which allows users to earn “wins” for tracking their meals, activities and weight, as well as attending WW Wellness Workshops.

Rewards will include fitness lessons, healthy food, access to concerts or a spot on a WW Cruise. The cruises, which launched last year and travel to destinations across the Caribbean, include SmartPoints meals, workshops and workouts.

Weight-Watchers-
The new look WW app.

Taking on the popularity of fitness trackers such as Fitbit, WW is launching a new personalised FitPoints system tailored to each member, which is based on their height, weight, age and gender, and features an algorithm rewarding members for high intensity training.

Eager to keep pace with the move to voice tech, WW is introducing a beta-version of its app on Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Members will now be able to use voice search to look up the SmartPoints values of their food and gain updates on their progress.

Tapping into the “self-care” trend, Weight Watchers is also teaming up with mediation and mindfulness app Headspace to develop customised content for its members.

The diet giant is even taking on healthy meal plan players like Mindful Chef and Balance Box by removing all artificial sweeteners, flavours, colours and preservatives from its products by January 2019.

The search for relevance

The push towards voice search, the Headspace collaboration and adoption of bespoke fitness tracking technology all reflect the company’s desire to shift towards a millennial and Gen Z membership.

Grossman has talked openly about the need to broaden brand appeal beyond the 35-plus market and stressed that the rebrand to WW is all about keeping the five-decade old company relevant in 2018.

That push started in January when Weight Watchers signed up music producer and Justin Bieber collaborator DJ Khaled as its social media ambassador. Never one to over-hype anything, Khaled, who boasts 12.1 million followers on Instagram and 4.16 million on Twitter, invited fans to join him on the first step on his Weight Watchers “journey of greatness”.

Taking its desire to connect with Gen Z even further, in February Weight Watchers announced it would be offering free membership to teenagers aged 13 to 17. The move backfired, sparking a furious outcry online from eating disorder groups, which gave rise to the #wakeupweightwatchers hashtag.

However, as it makes its play for the youth market, Weight Watchers has actually been growing its subscriber base by 28% a year, equivalent to one million member, thanks to the “Oprah Effect”.

US TV presenter Oprah Winfrey is widely credited with saving the brand back in 2015 when she splashed out $43m on a 10% stake in the business and became its highest profile brand ambassador. The 64-year-old TV star’s weight loss journey resonates with Weight Watchers’ mainly female membership who have stayed loyal to the diet brand over the past 50 years.

While they may enjoy the bespoke nature of the new app and the ability to learn how to meditate via the Headspace application, this group is used to attending meetings and building a community of comrades face-to-face rather than online.

For many, the Weight Watchers brand is a signal of heritage in the faddish world of diet and nutrition, with five decades of success behind its name.

To sacrifice that history with a dramatic rebrand and an ambition to become a “technology experience company” is a sign that Weight Watchers is feeling the pressure from the sheer number of players fighting for a share of voice in the health and wellness market.

There is something sentimental and reassuring about the Weight Watchers brand, a name that has been embedded within popular culture for over 55 years.

Brands cannot afford to stand still so investing in improving the customer experience is absolutely crucial, but the rebrand could put Weight Watchers in danger of losing the very identity that helped it garner a legion of fans in the first place.

You have to ask yourself, do the slimmers who meet at their local church hall to catch up with their friends at the latest Weight Watchers meeting really care what DJ Khaled thinks? Probably not.

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Comments
  • Adele Rodgers 26 Sep 2018 at 3:42 pm

    I think this is a great idea – I’m not planning to be and never have been a weight watchers member but I am concerned with my own health and wellbeing and I think tapping into an idea of wellness and overall health is surely an overwhelmingly positive change. Current trends show the move away from focusing on just weight so while current WW members might need to get used to the new name and overall change in purpose, the want and need for a healthier lifestyle is still the over arching aim here. Fair play to WW!

  • Julian Pratt 27 Sep 2018 at 9:13 am

    By shortening the name that have made it twice as hard to say.

    In the sport and physical activity sector we are weighting 😉 to see when they start building physical activity into their identity.

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