Points of Light (Sydney)

The Work in Progress at Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers passed a key milestone this week in a difficult makeover. They unveiled new advertising with Oprah Winfrey to support the complete re-design of their program for the critical New Year period.

The company’s stock jumped more than 20% when the new advertising debuted.

Responding to consumer preferences shifting away from diets, deprivation, and weight loss, Weight Watchers has shifted its focus. The branding — Beyond the Scale — gives you a clue to what they’re doing. The point system that lies at the core of the program has been re-designed, explains Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster:

We developed our new program from the ground up using the latest scientific learnings to go beyond calorie-counting and deliver against a much broader set of objectives than just the number on the scale. In Beyond the Scale, you find ways to fit fitness into your life and tap into the confidence you need to start, the motivation to stay inspired, and the positive energy to keep going, because clinical evidence shows that happier people tend to make healthier choices.

Some long-time members have praised the new regime, while others have grumbled. Foster says “These growing pains are expected and predictable. We’re committed to supporting our members through this transition.”

Such a huge shift is an equally huge risk, but changing consumer sentiment made it imperative for the company’s survival. Though the brand has passed some early milestones with flying colors, the real story will be much clearer when the company reports business results from this critical period.

We hope for evidence of more people finding more success beyond the scale.

Click here for more from the Washington Post, here for more from the Wall Street Journal, and here for details of changes to the Weight Watchers point system.

Points of Light (Sydney), photograph © Leorex / flickr

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January 2, 2016

4 Responses to “The Work in Progress at Weight Watchers”

  1. January 02, 2016 at 8:51 am, Susan Burke March said:

    Thanks for this column, Ted. I always laugh when I hear about WW’s “newest” innovations. When I was with eDiets, we digitized a number of different diets…including one that followed the AHA recommendations, and then many popular plans, including Atkins, Zone, Bob Greene, etc, etc! But at the time eDiets also completed a program, using wonderful graphics and algorithms written by an psychologist that prompted the user to assess their motivation and goals, and they received targeted messaging and inspiration to stay online and engaged with the program. This was in 2004! With WW’s $ and marketing budget and prestige from Dr. Foster, I hope that consumers will benefit from this program, and work their way toward healthier lifestyles including not “dieting” to achieve permanent weight loss.

    • January 02, 2016 at 1:43 pm, Ted said:

      Anytime I can make you smile, Susan, I’ve done my job. I’m smiling with you. Thanks!

  2. January 02, 2016 at 9:45 pm, Kitty said:

    As a Weight Watchers member of long standing I think that many people don’t really see how big a change the new program is. Weight Watchers basically uses a formula to assign points to a food. Obviously, the number of calories is a very important part of that calculation and, before, was the major part of the calculation. Now, the formula specifically penalizes (assigns higher points) to foods that are high in sugar and/or saturated fat and foods that are high in lean protein are lower point. Many foods that are high in sugar doubled in points, making them effectively something that can be eaten on plan only rarely. Many members are upset because WW’s prior points system were basically based more on calories. You could use your points for healthy foods or you could use them for cake and candy. Now, you can use them for cake and candy only occasionally. WW is intentionally focusing way more on healthy eating than simply weight loss. Some members are finding it hard to adjust. (Personally, I was already eating low sugar and low sat. fat so I didn’t have to make any change to how I ate, but some people are really having to change what they regularly eat.) There are members who don’t want WW to focus on healthy eating and want them to only focus on weight loss (aka calories). On the other hand, other members are enjoying the focus on healthier eating and are enjoying the greater weight loss they have experienced on the new program.

    • January 03, 2016 at 7:01 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your well-informed perspective, Kitty! It’s quite valuable.