Slim-Fast sets out to beef up Web club

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Only a week after slim-fast foods relaunched its Web site with a new "buddy" program recently, 6,900 of its roughly 240,000 Slim-Fast Online club members had signed up for the service. Now executives of the Unilever Bestfoods-owned diet brand are poised to take action offline to aggressively build membership in the club and its new program, which matches Slim-Fast dieters looking for emotional support by using demographic and geographic data.

"We are readying efforts to embark on this campaign of really promoting the [Slim-Fast Online] club," said Joanne Moscato, interactive director for Slim-Fast Foods. The weight-control brand is in discussions with its agency, Grey Global Group, New York, regarding what that campaign will entail, be it dedicated spots or tags to existing TV ads. But the hope is that a higher visibility campaign could leverage the existing strength of the Slim-Fast Online club.

Although membership in the club, introduced in 1999, grew 143% in January compared with the previous year, and the site boasts a 57% return rate, until now Slim-Fast has not used traditional media to support it. Instead, like many of its package-goods brethren, the brand has promoted the site online, partnering with entities such as America Online and iVillage (which is co-developing a beauty site with Unilever), and offline has gone only so far as to list the URL ( on commercials, coupons and packaging.

But now, Ms. Moscato said, "the club is becoming more important to Slim-Fast marketing, because we're seeing the way people are coming back to the site and using it for support and help. We don't have centers like Weight Watchers, so [creating] a virtual setting for people to weigh in, receive weekly newsletters and offer feedback seemed like the best opportunity to extend the brand."

Slim-Fast is the clear leader in the $1 billion liquid and powdered weight-control segment at retail, with sales up 10.5% to $545 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 28, per Information Resources Inc. Although Ms. Moscato said she believed the free online club acts as a tool to help members stay on the program (and keep buying the product), Slim-Fast is just now beginning to offer online coupons to help measure the actual impact of the site on sales.

What is certain, however, is that consumers are turning to the Internet for information on weight loss., the exclusive licensee of the Weight Watchers brand on the Internet, launched a new site in early February offering a variety of tools to enhance its meeting-room experience and has since tripled the number of unique users to its site to roughly 550,000, according to a spokesman. Meanwhile, leading online diet center saw its base of customers who pay for its custom meal and fitness plans grow 672% in 2000 to 258,000. In addition, a total of 3.4 million consumers receive eDiets' twice-weekly newsletters.


Unilever's Interactive Brand Center views Slim-Fast Online as a great case study in relationship marketing, said Eric Siebert, director of interactive marketing at the Center.

"The solution being provided [online] is fundamentally woven into consuming these Slim-Fast products, so people who actually come on and sign up for the program will be choosing the products as a pillar of their diet," he said. Due to its great potential, Mr. Siebert believes in putting traditional media spending behind the Web site.

"It's a golden opportunity to convert someone to a Web site experience and make them aware of a location where 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they can have a relationship with a brand and/or a solution to a problem."

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