Anatomy of a Shame Campaign; or, Weight Watchers, You Suck

Anatomy of a Shame Campaign; or, Weight Watchers, You Suck

Ah, Weight Watchers.

Weight Watchers, Weight Watchers, Weight Watchers.

Your ex-Finance Director said your customers were as likely to succeed as they were to win the lottery. One of your original spokeswomen, Bernice Weston, said “when it comes to food, fat people are basically very stupid.” And in 2013, consumers spent $5billion on your products in an attempt to lose weight.

And for your 2014 US marketing efforts, you’ve come up with a new campaign that – without a hint of irony – shames women for eating, and encourages them to adopt a healthier lifestyle by buying the range of processed, chemically formed crap-patties you call “food.”

Y’all are asshats, plain and simple.

Yes, that’s right. It’s time for a takedown, with thanks to the many lovely people that sent me this excellent piece at The Frisky highlighting what may be, for me, one of the most irritating, cynical marketing ploys yours truly has ever encountered.

Cue twee ukelele music (we’re good people). Clue exposed brickwork (vulnerability), director’s chairs (you’re in control), cue ‘real women’ and wholesome blackboard writing (because it’s about learning, right?)

Then – because Weight Watchers realised they’d made an important discovery about women (namely: they enjoy food) – cue PR stunt publicity campaign in Times Square. Cue vox pops from ‘real women’ with well-placed product references. Cue happy women, looking pleased whilst holding an empty plate even though it hasn’t, and isn’t about to, held any food of any description.

Yep, that’s right ladies – not eating is empowering.

Enjoying sweets, chocolate, and takeout, on the other hand, makes you a wildebeest. Get in the booth and confess your sins to be immediately absolved of anything – from the occasional extra cookie, to a full scale eating disorder, the WW Confession Booth offers a one-stop-stop for all your therapy needs:

Always intrigued by a quick fix, I decided to hit up their website – where, it turns out, there are no ingredient lists – which is weird, huh? I mean, given it’s a product for the health-conscious consumer, you’d think ‘what’s in it’ would be a pretty big question… Right?

But that’s because – much like junk food from McDonalds to Slim Fast – Weight Watchers Smart Ones don’t actually constitute what I would define as food. A collection of chemicals constituting certain amounts of protein, carbs, and fats, yes – but real food? Notsomuch. So far, so unsurprising.

The campaign page, though, is where things get a lil’ more interesting. I’m a big Twitter addict, so my first click was to the #cleanyourslate hashtag, to see who was talking about it. This user, in particular, popped up on the Weight Watchers’ site feed – and with good reason. She’s hella enthusiastic, and appears to have posted a whole number of tweets on the subject – many of which appear in threes, all at the same time:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.39.53

If that ain’t a bot – or at least, a pre-programmed series of tweets from someone who doesn’t appear – or rather, admit – to being affiliated with Weight Watchers – I will eat my hat.

Or rather, a hat. I’m not really a hat person.

Here’s another example:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.38.39

Spot the identical middle tweet. Coincidence? I think not.

Then, I clicked the link – the “” link, that redirected right on back to Weight Watchers’ website, where I could purchase the item in question., though, is a link I hadn’t seen previously – so I tried to visit the root site there, to see what redirect programme they were using. Y’know, ’cause I’m nosey.

That took me to a 404 on Punchtab, a digital marketing business who – and I quote – “deliver consistent personalized experiences across any channel – digital, CRM, social, direct marketing, mobile, and in-store.”

They’re right about the consistent part – their consumers are tweeting identical things. Impressive, y’all.

So, having concluded the Twitter users probably weren’t real – or at least, that they were under some serious influence – I headed back over to the Weight Watchers site to find out a lil’ more. I right-clicked a link to open it in a new tab, and as if by magic, I ended up landing on the following URL:

…Yep. Punchtab.

The campaign itself – the digital aspect of the Clean Your Slate marketing campaign is, it turns out, run by Punchtab (who, eagle-eyed readers may observe, also represent ConAgra – one of the biggest junk food and sugar companies in the world). Even their Instagram hashtag seems to be fake – with almost all the photos published either by the official campaign account, one user who – in yet more amazing coincidences – seems to tweet many of the same things as the accounts referenced above – and one by @punchtabsarah.


At this point, it seems like a good time to point y’all over to The Onion’s brilliant skewering of ‘social media gurus’, where the speaker says:

“Ideally, real human users will leave social networking altogether, and all that will be left will be thousands of robots, talking to each other – who we can then advertise to. Now, robots don’t yet buy products – but that’s not our concern. In the new social media economy, you just have to keep looking like you’re doing work – and people will pay you for it.”

Now, it might appear that this piece is picking on Weight Watchers for the fault of their digital agency – but let me refer you back to The Men Who Made Us Thin, and the interview with Richard Samber – their former Finance Director – who, when questioned about their appalling 16% success rate after 5 years, said that the business is successful “because the other 84% have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from.”

In other words – they’re selling you nothing. Nothing. It’s a gloss, a sheen, some kind of smoke and mirrors affair designed with the sole purpose of making money. The false tweets, the fake accounts, the imaginary Instagrammers, the holes in the execution of this Weight Watchers campaign are – in a kind of poetic loop I couldn’t even dream up – a direct reflection of their entire business.

Their cynical, offensive attempt to cash in on the fact that women eating is still the cultural problem that it clearly is – by hawking chemically processed ready meals like magical empowerment cookies – is bullshit, pure and simple.

It’s yet more evidence that you’ve gotta be critical like a ninja around food advertising, because – ironically, given the level of woman-shaming going on around these parts – when it comes to their own marketing ploys, companies like Weight Watchers have no shame. They don’t give a damn about your happiness, or your health – but your money?

That’s pretty damn appealing.

From the twee music, to the food-shaming, via the omnipresent cultural myths that Losing Weight Will Make You Happy and Hunger Will Make You a Better Woman, this campaign – like all diet industry marketing, from Slim Fast to the diet pill company that tried to buy yours truly – represents a hateful, cynical ploy to make cash out of you, the consumer, by selling you something that isn’t true, and doesn’t work.

So, Weight Watchers, from me to you: keep your shaming, and flip it back on yourselves. Keep your cynical, nasty-ass ideas about what women fall for, and don’t come near me with that stuff you call food – because the sort of happiness that really matters doesn’t come in a box, a fake tweet, or a bullshit confessional on Times Square.

It comes from standing here, and flipping two fingers to your cynical, soulless business.


6 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Shame Campaign; or, Weight Watchers, You Suck”

  • After 7 years of going back to weight watchers (and loosing 4 stone only to gain back 7!!!!) I eventually took the plunge last week and cancelled my membership. It was after reading your blog that I took that decision and I was starting to hate a lot of their ethics. My leaders favourite saying was the ‘nothing tastes as good as being slim feels’ and she told us over Easter to keep the Easter egg nearby but don’t eat it, instead use it to remind us that we don’t want to be an egg shape! I decided enough was enough and am now following a healthy eating program and have joined a gym 🙂
    This is a great article and represents what I sadly feel isn’t the only big fake marketing storm that companies create to sell their products. I know a few weight watchers leaders (UK) who hate how WAw market their food and they actually suggest their members don’t buy their branded food!

Leave a Reply