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.
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.)