Commentary

If You're Happy And You Know It, Stuff Your Face

With the big gobble-gobble weekend approaching, it’s probably a great time for Weight Watchers to debut this new 60-second spot, timed for prime family viewing on our first Post-Turkey Sunday. (AKA, when the stuffing hits the fan.)

From what I can tell, it’s also a first for the weight-loss industry. Let us count the ways: No wafer-thin celebrities in uber-flattering clothing (who never mention their trainers or private chefs) putting on their “Let’s encourage the little people” faces. No before-and-after stories from real people who might have had some plastic surgery along the way, or are girdled into their afterwear. No delicious-looking “permitted” foods massively prettified and placed on platters. No beautiful pools, spas -- or people who now look great gracing those places; no stand-alone full-length mirrors; no middle-aged women furiously combing their closets and then showing up victorious at high school reunions or popping up in their well-appointed kitchens in their daughters’ jeans. And no, there’s no trace of active, happy people dancing -- or even interacting -- anywhere.

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We see no success at all. Instead, it’s a completely fresh, trick-less, depressingly realistic take on a complicated subject: an overweight person’s ambivalent, triggering relationship with food. I use the word “triggering” because at bottom, this spot is subtle, restrained, and far more psychologically aware than any we have seen before in the category.

The message is subtle, and so is the craftsmanship. It actually requires a few viewings to get the best details. The music, matched to and contrasted with the drab, funny, anarchic visuals (I love the kid with the neck brace eating sad pizza with the losing team) is the kiddie song “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Except those lyrics have been changed to “If you’re happy and you know it, eat a snack.”

Still, there’s huge restraint involved. It’s all happy at first. And then about halfway in, the lyrics change to “If you’re sad/bored/lonely/sleepy/guilty/stressed ...” The matching, rapid-fire images are funny and sometimes absurd -- but all ring true emotionally and illustrate the idea of disconnected, mindless, or emotional eating.

I’ve never actually sat fully clothed in an empty bathtub eating Cheese Doodles, but I sure empathize with the woman shown doing it. There’s a hilarious shot of a dweeby guy who stations himself at the food table at a party, loading up. Just the shot of some disgusting foodstuff revolving inside a microwave in a dreary office kitchen while a woman waits impatiently in front of it speaks volumes. (And it reminds me of Joan Rivers’ mean old joke about Elizabeth Taylor -- that she’s the only one who stands in front of a microwave and yells, “Hurry up!”) Except in this case, it’s the mind-numbing dullness of the office that’s the culprit.

And then there’s the guilty mom who is reduced to stealing Halloween candy literally from under her costumed, sleeping kid’s nose. Come on, some of us have been there. And the spot also includes an array of sheet cakes for every season and reason, including “Central Court Appearance.”  

The creators have really nailed those dark cravings, and the spot is a wonderful mix of genders, races and ages, all united as eaters reaching for food to satisfy something other than hunger.

In the last few seconds, we hear, “If you’re human, eat your feelings -- eat a snack.”

Then the smart and economical phrase “Help with the hard parts,” flashes quickly on the screen, before the Weight Watchers logo gets a second or two of screen time.

It also looks as if the agency redesigned the logo. The makeover, all lower-case and modern, is looking great.

Altogether, the spot is a surprising and dazzling tour de force. I just have one complaint. The ditty is sung by Tony Babino, a crooner from Brooklyn. And he pronounces “human” as “youman.” Maybe the West Coast agency peeps thought it made the song sound more authentic and youman not to correct him? To me, it’s really distracting and sounds like nails on a bocce board. (I harbor similar ill feelings about the voiceover for that way-too-earnest Whole Foods commercial. The woman actually pronounces the word “groshery.” Oh, the inhumanity!)

The spot will also run in-cinema (you can time your popcorn eating with the cuts, and then feel terrible). It doesn’t really tell us much, except that as a company, Weight Watchers “gets” the degree of difficulty of losing weight and keeping it off.

Of course, it’s a tough time for mature companies like Weight Watchers, which used to profit greatly from member attendance at classes -- and later, from online membership. Now, in an age of Fitbits and chef-prepared food delivery systems -- and free Internet everything -- there’s so much competition.

But this one spot will certainly stand out from the pack. Slyly, it even suggests that Weight Watchers not only gets your failures, but has a secret weapon to offer.

Whether that translates into getting people to sign up with Weight Watchers and stay with the program is truly the hard part.

What is nice, though, is that the company has shown us a new face. And it’s smart, empathetic and entirely youman.

(Full disclosure: I had some family connection to Weight Watchers, but that was many years -- and owners -- ago.)

11 comments about "If You're Happy And You Know It, Stuff Your Face".
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  1. Alice Henry Whitmore from Freelance writer , November 26, 2014 at 10:16 p.m.

    In the midst of making beaucoup de T'giving pies, and I read every word. Having worked on other accounts in the same category, I applaud WW and their agency for coming up (finally!) with the winning formula. And thanks to B Lippert for sussing out the sauce, as usual. Great article!

  2. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, November 26, 2014 at 11:51 p.m.

    I'm not sure there is a "solution" to shedding pounds. Like almost every other female, I've wrestled with getting back to my ideal weight, but I've not had to face the addictions, the self-loathing or the aspect of being morbidly obese. But I think if people trust a regimen or a company that has (allegedly) helped people with their avoirdupois, stick with it. And don't let friends who poo-poo it dissuade you. And, hey, it's Thanksgiving, so enjoy!

  3. david marks from self, November 27, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Barbara, and thank you for reminding me that my rationalizations, gluttony and lack of seasonal discipline, may just yet rest in the hands of Weight Watchers. Thank God the wisdom is a late riser, because I already splurged on sweet potato pie, and at the moment, I am guiltless in Manhattan. Great piece.

  4. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION, November 27, 2014 at 12:57 a.m.

    Great piece, as always. We're waging The War On Obesity. And no surprise, the US is in a Giant Obesity Epidemic. In 1990, obese adults made up less than 15% of the population in almost all U.S. states. Just 20 years later, by 2010 36 states had obesity rates of 25% or higher, and 12 of those had obesity rates of 30% or higher. Today, nationwide roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69 %), and one out of three is obese (36 %) -- that's a clear and present danger. Because 90% of the Medicare dollars are spent on the complications of chronic disease, obesity being the cause of the onset of many chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. And we're facing a $34 trillion dollar healthcare deficit while looking down the barrel at multitudes of chronic diseases from obesity. Yet the government, corporations, corporate policies, and physicians do little to prevent the onset of obesity, chronic disease, or the complications. Should systems be created so that people are encouraged to act responsibly and stop abusing their bodies? Well, you'd think that with no universal healthcare coverage in a very sick country that companies like WW would be doing more to help. But they make more -- a lot more -- by making failures seem perfectly "OK".

  5. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks, November 27, 2014 at 1:01 a.m.

    they are getting closer but not quite there. As a life-long sufferer among a family of sufferers I can tell you that obesity is a disease, not a psychological problem. Something tells us we are hungry when we shouldn't be. It is insulting to be told that I am "stuffing my feelings" or "eating my heart out". I explained this to a client at WW. A skinny person with no weight issues. I told her that if she really wanted to blow the doors off the category, WW would say: "Until there's a cure, there's Weight Watchers."

  6. Nancy Vonk from Swim, November 27, 2014 at 9:32 a.m.

    Agree totally, insights that could prompt people to think harder about how they're really approaching food---and check out WW. What a welcome departure from the old go-to images and tactics in the category.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 27, 2014 at 10:18 a.m.

    It is still an insult to tell people they are too fat and it is not healthy no matter how well they say they feel. This includes doctors, all health workers and employers whose workers' lives depends upon a physically fit workforce - think police, fire, educators, utility workers....you get the picture. Of course, losing weight is terribly hard. But who pays for all of those medical procedures ? Would WW be more economical in the long run ?

  8. Mark Thomas from Self Employed, November 28, 2014 at 11:16 p.m.

    Barbara,
    Here is my comment unrelated to this post.

    You were the reason to read ADWEEK, and now your columns at Madblog, as then, always get down to the essential elements - pieces that make the reader smile, because they are so clever, smart and hit the mark.
    MGT

  9. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, December 1, 2014 at 1:28 p.m.

    the worst celebrity pick of all time IMHO was Mariah Carey for Jenny Craig. They must have paid her a fortune, and everything about her losing weight had nothing to do with Jenny. They placed her in a conversation pit with "real women" in the spots. And it was pretty sick making. On the other hand, I did love Kirstie Allie, screaming in her patio pants about the fettucine.

  10. Victoria Villalobos from V Source NYC, December 4, 2014 at 5:09 p.m.

    Having been on the music side of every kind of weight loss anything, I've seen my share of more than I need to remember, I agree this is quite refreshing. Great article as usual, Barbara!

  11. Robert Niess from MKT, January 27, 2015 at 12:02 a.m.

    I loved reading this article mostly because it really has confirmed my belief that this was the perfect commercial and advertising opportunity for the Weight Watchers program. I had been having a conversation with some family members over the holidays about this commercial and they all failed to understand my point that Weight Watchers was speaking to the population that is not perfect and when we need to we tend to stuff our faces with unhealthy food. I feel that Weight Watches was saying to the public through the commercial that we understand that your not perfect and sometime you diet is going to slip, and when it does we are here to help. I felt that they put out a clever ad that got my attention, it was a commercial that stuck, they used a common childhood song that could easily get stuck in you head, and an hour after hearing the commercial I find myself walking around the house singing the commercial to myself. It is definitely one of the better Weight commercials that I have seen in a while. I give big props to Weight Watches for creating something that is able to grab attention and make a statement at the same time.

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