Weightwatchers makes a meal of its marketing

Ruth Mortimer is Marketing Week’s associate editor and a prolific blogger. She won a PPA Award for her forthright and insightful columns on marketing.

I was confused on seeing Weightwatchers’ new advertising to see singer and talent TV show presenter Alesha Dixon appearing in it. Mainly because I have seen Dixon appear on TV and in newspapers and magazines since her days in girl band Mis-Teeq back in 1999. And she has never been overweight.

I am not alone in wondering why Weightwatchers has hired Dixon to appear in ads when she does not symbolise their brand. An article in the Daily Mirror quotes comments from Twitter including @mooandboo16 who wrote: “How can you have the balls to front a campaign when you have NEVER had a weight problem? You have NO idea what it’s like.”

Obesity is a very sensitive issue. The whole point of Weightwatchers is that it is supposed to help people maintain a healthy weight and sensible lifestyle. But this story is not well told through a popstar/TV presenter (already one step removed from “normal life”) who has not battled with her weight (and so one step removed from the issue too).

Of course Alesha may work very hard to stay slim and healthy and feel very strongly about helping people stay in a good weight range. Meanwhile, Weightwatchers say she is not “the new face” but merely wrote the song for the advert and appears in it. Fair enough. But why use a popstar whose life and work has not been affected by weight? If she is not the new face of Weightwatchers, why use a celebrity at all?

The controversy over using Alesha Dixon in ads is a shame. Because it obscures something much more interesting that Weightwatchers is doing right now. The brand has turned to the trend of “gamification” to attract users.

Gamification means using gaming elements to enhance a product or service. In the case of Weightwatchers, which declares “play to win” on its ads, highlighting the game-like process of plotting out your daily diet using its ProPoints. This is backed by a new website – Playweightwatchers.co.uk.

The Weightwatchers diet system fits neatly into using game mechanics. It is a fairly primitive example of gamification that could be taken further – The Guardian points out that there are no defined goals as a result of taking part in the Weightwatchers’ game as yet – but it’s a start.

So while Weightwatchers needs to work on its gamification a little, at least this is an interesting move. Using a slim celebrity in your ads and then saying this person is not “the face” of your brand seems a little confused. I hope that 2012 will see the company slimming down its advertising approach to the marketing areas that will really make an impact.