Weight Watchers Hires Marketing VP as it Repositions Brand

Former Mentos Marketer Maurice Herrera Fills Vacant Job

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Weight Watchers has hired a new top marketing executive for the U.S., as the struggling company prepares to reposition its brand for the upcoming diet season.

Maurice Herrera, who has held various marketing roles in the food, beverage and candy industries, will take on the position of senior VP-marketing and report directly to Lesya Lysyj, president of Weight Watchers North America. Mr. Herrera most recently was chief marketing officer for a company called Materne, maker of GoGo Squeez, a line of squeezable fruit pouches. Before that he was VP-marketing for Perfetti Van Melle, maker of Mentos and Airheads candies.

The North American division has been without a top marketing executive since former Senior VP-Marketing Cheryl Callan departed. Ms. Callan left shortly after Ms. Lysyj was hired late last year after serving as CMO of Heineken USA. Ms. Lysyj acted as interim lead marketer while Weight Watchers conducted the VP-marketing search.

Mr. Herrera's "experience with contemporizing iconic brands will be instrumental as we reinvigorate our brand and the way we connect with consumers," Ms. Lysyj said in a statement. Mr. Herrera said he is "motivated by the opportunity … to connect a whole new generation of consumers to the brand."

Changes under Ms. Lysyj's watch include naming Widen & Kennedy, Portland as lead agency in April. The shop replaced McCann, New York. Earlier this year Weight Watchers parted ways with celebrity spokeswoman Jennifer Hudson, who told People magazine in March that "I have chosen to step away from my role as ambassador."

Wieden & Kennedy is working on a new campaign, and if previous years are any indication, the work will likely break in time for the post-holiday diet season.

The company, like other traditional diet-plan marketers, has struggled to compete with a host of other online solutions, including free weight-loss apps. For the second quarter, Weight Watchers International reported that revenue fell by 15.6% to $397.5 million. In North America, revenue fell by about 20%, with the number of active subscribers dropping 17.3% compared with the year-earlier period, the company stated.

In the face of those negative trends, Weight Watchers International has been cutting costs, including in marketing, where the company expects to slash $30 million for the full year, executives said. The company reported $161.6 million in marketing expenses for the six months ending June 28, compared with $193 million for the year-earlier period.

"The biggest challenge we face in our business continues to be recruitment, as competitive forces continue to impact our current consumer offerings with mobile apps and activity monitors garnering a large amount of consumer and media attention and negatively impacting our consumer trial," James Chambers, CEO of Weight Watchers International, told analysts on a recent earnings call.

He foreshadowed marketing changes coming for the 2015 winter season that would involve an "accompanying repositioning of our brand." The company's strength, he said, "is and always will be in the human connections that make a weight-loss journey more successful, connections between members and between members and service providers."

But he added that "these human connections have always been present in our meetings offering, but not in our online offering." So the company's 2015 innovations "will bring this power to our online offering for the first time and strengthen its impact in the existing meetings offering," he said. That will include bringing "one-on-one personal advice from Weight Watchers experts to our online members for the first time, while also providing greater personalization and connection in between meetings for our meetings members."

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