In its latest ads, the marketer tries to pull this off by portraying a world in which food is everywhere, real or imagined. The spots, by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. show keyboards that look like cheese dip, water coolers that spout jellybeans and phones made of chocolate.
Willy Wonka has nothing on this universe. Except the goal for Weight Watchers is not frivolity, but to depict the complex relationships that people have with food. Ultimately, the marketer wants to generate demand for its revamped plans that now include expert one-on-one coaching that is available online, rather than only at meetings.
"For the first time ever we are offering an unprecedented level of support," said Maurice Herrera, Weight Watchers senior VP-marketing. Part of the company's "magic sauce" has always been its support system, he said. But now Weight Watchers is making the personal approach found in meetings "accessible to just about anybody from anytime from anywhere."
Weight Watchers has been forced to evolve because its revenues have suffered as free online calorie-counting apps like MyFitnessPal win attention. The company began changing its marketing in November when it launched a TV ad that showed people eating out of habit or to fill emotional needs (rather than hunger) to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know it."
The "World of Food" ads will begin airing on Sunday.The media buy includes programming such as "American Idol" on Fox and NBC's "Parenthood."
The larger campaign, which is called "Help With the Hard Part," marks a significant departure for a brand that had relied on celebrities such as Jennifer Hudson and before-and-after imagery.
The old "quick-fix" approach failed to distinguish Weight Watchers from competitors such as Jenny Craig, which have also relied on celebrities, Mr. Herrera said. "There was just a lot of confusion about ... what it is Weight Watchers bringing to the table," he said. Now, he added, the company is "communicating to consumers that we have a very clear understanding of the issue and we have a very distinctive proposition for how to help you."
The revamped plans offer four options. The cheapest one, called "Essentials," is online-only, costs $19.95 a month and includes 24/7 "expert chat real-time support." The most expensive plan, which is called "Total Access" and costs $69.95 a month, includes access to meetings as well as a personal coach who is available via phone, email and text messaging.