At a WW GOOD wellness festival powered by Weight Watchers “WW” in Union Square, New York City residents engage in a movement and meditation series (“LIFTED”) led by Celebrity Fitness Instructor Holly Rilinger, Sunday, August 26, 2018. (Stuart Ramson/Weight Watchers via AP Images)
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At a WW GOOD wellness festival powered by Weight Watchers “WW” in Union Square, New York City residents engage in a movement and meditation series (“LIFTED”) led by Celebrity Fitness Instructor Holly Rilinger, Sunday, August 26, 2018. (Stuart Ramson/Weight Watchers via AP Images)

Self-Care And Body Positivity: How Companies Are Rebranding For Wellness

By

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Beauty and diet companies are rebranding themselves as wellness companies. But does layering on a dose of inner peace make a difference if the goal is still weight loss or better skin?

Guests

Angelica LaVito, Consumer health reporter for CNBC.com. (@angelicalavito)

Mindy Grossman, president and CEO of WW International Inc., formerly known as Weight Watchers. (@mindygrossman)

Traci Mann, professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota. Principal investigator at the Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota. Author of “Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again.” (@TraciLynnMann)

Interview Highlights

On why WW rebranded

Mindy Grossman: “We know that people need so much more than [weight loss] today if they are going to lead a sustainable and healthy life over the long-term. What we’re providing them today is so much more than just a weight and nutrition program. What we’re focused on is what you put in your body, how you move your body, how your mind supports your efforts, how can we motivate and inspire you? And very importantly, how can we give you a community for inspiration? That’s what we’ve been built on. The idea of having something that is ultimately livable and sustainable. That’s the problem with a lot of things today — people think short-term versus really needing a partner for them to want to live their healthiest lives.”

On whether rebranding is just an effort to reach new markets

MG: “I’ve been in the consumer brand business for 40 years. … The reality is that our biggest competition is people who think they can get healthy themselves. They need a partner in that, and they need both the science behind what we do, the inspiration behind what we do, and the holistic approach. We do feel we have the opportunity to reach that many more people; it’s not just for your mom.”

On how the consumers have helped push WW’s rebrand

Angelica LaVito: “I do think that much of this is being driven by the consumer. Weight Watchers, now WW, has talked about the fact that this rebrand came from really a low point for them. Consumers were not meshing with their messaging, and it forced the company to really take a hard look at itself, and change its message.

“A big portion of this is from this genuine desire to eat better. … Eating clean, and eating more whole fruits and vegetables, is really trying to be healthier and losing weight, but it’s repackaged a little bit differently. A part of it, I think, is marketing from the consumer. The consumer says they want to eat clean, they want to be well and be healthy, but at the same time, a lot of that is losing weight. But I do think companies are trying to keep up. People are trying to be healthy no matter how they’re saying it, whether it’s going to the gym more just to feel better and be more active.”

On why health is about more than just weight

Traci Mann: “If we really care about health, then we have to step away from this goal of weight loss. It really seems to me that we’re focused way too much on weight. Weight, it’s not really that great of an indicator of health. The medical community should know better — they have actually much better ways of measuring peoples’ health than putting them on a scale. They can take your blood pressure, for example.

“One thing that I really hope that people will think and appreciate in this New Year is that you can improve your health just by behaving in healthy ways. And if you do that, it might not change your weight. And I know that makes it sort of a hard sell for a lot of people.

“We need to teach ourselves that whatever body we have when we are behaving in healthy ways is the right body for us. We have to teach ourselves to be satisfied with that body, whatever it is.”

On whether people can come to the point where they can get healthier without the help of programs and technology

Traci Mann: “That is the pipe dream, but I don’t think it is that realistic. Behaving in healthy ways is hard, and I think we are always going to need some things that help motivate us to do it. I don’t really see it as becoming fully automatic ever, maybe one or two behaviors, but not the whole package.”

On the future of the “wellness” industry

Angelica LaVito: “I don’t think we’ll see it slow down. I think, if anything, it will just keep expanding. Of course, nutrition, exercise, will always be fundamental, what we think of when we think of wellness. But, as you mentioned before, now that’s expanding to meditation, people are looking at yoga, and even more than just our physical well-being, I think that employers, even health systems, are thinking about wellness as financial wellness, as housing — as really these other aspects of our lives that we would never really think of.”

From The Reading List

Bloomberg: “Weight Watchers Adds ‘Holistic Wellness’ to Its Menu” — “CEO Mindy Grossman says the company is about more than waistlines.”

How are you positioning the company as you rebrand Weight Watchers around the WW name next year?

We’ll be entering 2019 with a whole new portfolio reflecting all the brand initiatives and the transition from not just being the leader in weight management, but being a new leader in holistic wellness for people.

How do you maintain the relevance of the brand in the minds of current customers and those you’re trying to get into the program?

What people want today is a complete approach to helping them not just define but deliver on what healthy means to them. The reason we went with the tag line “Wellness That Works” is all of our research: You say to someone, “Why WW? What does it mean to you?” and the No. 1 thing is, it works. So we’re applying everything we’ve done for 55 years, giving people even more help to live healthier.

How is the brand poised to bring in new people, whether it’s younger women or more men?

We’ve traditionally been about 90 percent female and 10 percent male. [The male share] is higher within our digital framework. But when we launched our Invite a Friend program, almost 20 percent of the new subscribers were men, which shows we’re starting to resonate more broadly. And a lot of programs we’re launching into 2019 are not for our current base but different areas: young moms, young dads, college. That is a very big initiative for us.

New York Times: “Weight Watchers Gets Its Own Makeover” — “Ms. Grossman’s tenure of just under a year has not all been so lighthearted. In February, she encountered her first public relations crisis when Weight Watchers announced during a global employee event that it planned to offer free six-week memberships to teenagers. The well-oiled social media opprobrium machine heaved into gear, with the Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Center introducing an aggrieved hashtag, #wakeupweightwatchers, and the Academy for Eating Disorders posting an open letter to Ms. Grossman that cited studies linking restrictive diets during adolescence to potentially severe mental and physical consequences.

“The following month, Oprah Winfrey — who in 2015 bought a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers, along with becoming its spokeswoman — sold a quarter of that stake, prompting speculation about her long-term involvement. (Ms. Winfrey later said that she was donating some of those shares to a charity and that she remained committed to the company.)

“Sitting in a fabric-lined boardroom with the company’s senior vice president of corporate communications, Stacie Sherer, Ms. Grossman was as measured as a cup of popcorn (up to two SmartPoints) about the teenager kerfuffle.

“‘Whenever you do anything that’s different from the norm, you’ll have some people who think it’s the most incredible thing in the world, that you’re going to help generations get healthy,’ she said. ‘And then you’re going to have some people who want to weigh in thinking that we’re putting the teenagers of the world on a diet which is exactly what we’re not doing.’ She cited the company’s consultation with pediatric experts. ‘There’s nothing that we’re going to do that’s not rooted in science, and that doesn’t make sense,’ she said, ‘and so it’s just a matter of clarification and communication.’ ”

Vox: “As ‘dieting’ becomes more taboo, Weight Watchers is changing its name” — “Weight Watchers will now be known as ‘WW.’ The 55-year-old company just announced that it is rebranding to focus more on overall health. Its new tagline: ‘Wellness that works.’

“It’s a change the company has been building up to since 2015. Oprah Winfrey came on as an investor when Weight Watchers was in decline and announced that she lost a lot of weight on the program while also still eating bread every single day. The company’s fortunes have improved since then, but it is shooting for $2 billion in revenue, according to Fortune, a goal that has been in its sights for almost a decade but has not yet come to fruition.

“It’s not surprising that Weight Watchers is distancing itself from dieting. We are in a moment when the concepts of wellness and self-care have become all-important. Talking openly about dieting is becoming taboo, and the body positivity movement is on the rise. Weight Watchers had to change to stay relevant, and it’s been increasingly talking up wellness and a healthy lifestyle for a few years now. Tellingly, in an op-ed in the New York Times in March decrying the company’s plan to offer free memberships to teens as young as 13, Jennifer Weiner wrote, ‘You could almost believe that the company was preparing to change its name from Weight Watchers to Self-Esteem and Healthy Habits Central.’

“But is Weight Watchers, and our culture of dieting, truly changing? Not really. No matter its name, WW is first and foremost a company that wants to help you lose weight in a society that prioritizes weight loss. Everything else is essentially just marketing.”

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast. [Copyright 2019 NPR]