Super Bowl

Why Weight Watchers Ran an Anti-Drug-Like Super Bowl Ad

Rookie Big Game Advertiser Tries to Start a Conversation

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This is your brain. This is your brain on donuts and cheeseburgers.

That is the sobering message behind Weight Watchers' first-ever Super Bowl ad on Sunday. The spot, by Wieden & Kennedy, ran Sunday alongside lighthearted ads for beer, chips and candy -- and most likely came as millions of viewers were stuffing their faces with greasy snacks.

The diet marketer didn't want to crash the party with a complete guilt trip, however. Rather, Weight Watchers wanted to gain some attention for its newly revised dieting programs by running a high-profile spot at a time when dieters might be straying from their New Year's resolutions. That doesn't just mean Super Bowl Sunday.

This is the time of year when some people "start to veer off track," said Maurice Herrera, senior VP-marketing for Weight Watchers. So "we thought the timing was right."

The ad purposely resembles an anti-drug spot. The choice of former "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul for the voiceover underscored the drug theme. Notably, the marketer's branding was understated. The company's name only appears at the end of the ad, alongside Weight Watchers' new tagline: "Help with the Hard Part." That language came right after the spot's call to action: "It's time to take back control."

The drug analogy was a "creative device," Mr. Herrera said, adding that in the Super Bowl, "we've got to entertain." Beyond that, Weight Watchers sought to portray people's complex relationship with food, while showing how popular culture can influence bad eating habits.

And it wanted to spark a conversation about the brand between the converted and unconverted -- who may well be watching together at a Super Bowl party. Suggesting Weight Watchers to a friend can be a "delicate topic," Mr. Herrera said. But the ad "sets the table for that."

As an enticement, Weight Watchers began plugging an introductory offer called "Lose 10 lbs on us." The promotion waives sign-up fees and promises to refund two months of membership charges for people who lose at least 10 pounds during their first two months.

To encourage conversations, Weight Watchers sent a "party package" to 200 women ages 25 to 54 across the U.S. -- including members and nonmembers -- that included game day decorations and a recipe book. The marketer chose the winners from a 21,000-member community called the "Weight Watchers Society," which is organized through Crowdtap, an online social marketing platform.

Unlike many Super Bowl advertisers' elaborate pre-game rollouts or teasers and full ads, Weight Watchers remained silent until the ad aired during the game. .

"This is a more serious type of message," Mr. Herrera said last week in an interview, speaking on the condition that his comments would not be published until after the ad aired. "I don't think it lends itself toward having a trailer or peek under the tent."