Feature

For and against: Weight Watchers' rebrand to WW to focus on 'wellness'

Weight Watchers announced this week it would rebrand to WW, ditching its 'diet' image to capitalise on the wellness trend. But is it a savvy refresh or a lightweight move for the 55-year-old advertiser? Two industry execs offer their differing takes on the wholesale shift in strategy.

"WW has demonstrated that it’s playing the long game"

The case for: by Maria Vardy, managing director at Jaywing

This rebrand is a great example of a brand taking bold action to keep up with the changing face of its industry – and WW has made no secret that this is its goal.

It’s become clear that in the modern consumer’s mind, health and wellness no longer refer simply to diets that help you lose weight or exercise routines that keep you fit. Consumers are taking a more holistic approach to their wellbeing – one that incorporates better mental health, improved diet and nutrition, better sleep and heightened fitness levels.

It's a shift in perspective that anyone who has been keeping tabs on the industry won't have missed. The rise of the health and wellness industry has become increasingly apparent – and brands all around the world (including the likes of Holland & Barrett) are looking for ways to either adapt to it or enhance their offering to exploit the radical change in consumer preferences in recent years.

The real story behind this rebrand is how well WW has looked to leverage the elements that comprise more holistic attitudes to health and wellness.

For instance, it also plans to launch an app in partnership with the online meditation-teaching company, Headspace. And by dropping the reference to weight in its name, it is turning away from the focus on physical health and body size associated with the ‘Weight Watchers’ legacy, instead moving towards more diverse and complex ideas of what constitutes health and wellbeing.

Of course, not every element of this rebranding effort is perfect. The irony in the new ‘WW’ name, which becomes ‘double u, double u’ when uttered out loud, has already been highlighted in the press and provoked laughter.

But in many ways, that’s what this rebrand points to: a more holistic conception of health, which is tied to wellbeing more generally, means that an emphasis on weight and size alone is simply outdated.

By taking such bold and decisive action – and yes, taking a bit of flak – WW has demonstrated that it’s playing the long game and won’t be caught out by the pace of change in this industry.

"The slimming of Weight Watchers to just WW is essentially marketing twaddle"

The case against: by Chris Moody, chief design officer at Wolff Olins

Nomenclature is one of the trickiest parts of building any identity. Get it right and it will reflect everything you do visually and reinforce your actions. Get it wrong and it can make your brand feel a bit out of touch or odd. (Let’s all be thankful you Googled this article rather than ‘rubbing it’ – which might have happened had the original brand name, ‘Backrub’, taken hold.)

Weight Watchers is, at its best, a well-meaning and helpful organisation. At a time when the obesity crisis is swallowing children and adults whole, it's a thoughtful, social and realistic way of helping people feel prouder of themselves. For many it is something to be cherished and supported.

The subtleties around the weight loss debate have to be approached with care and purpose. This is a brand equipped to do that, positively. It has genuine resonance in people’s lives and its marketing requires nuance. You couldn’t apply the tactics you’d use to promote Candy Crush.

And yes ‘The world has changed™’ and ‘New digital platforms have revolutionised the health industry™’, but when you boil it down, the slimming of Weight Watchers to just WW is essentially marketing twaddle. It’s the verbal equivalent of the ongoing blandification of the design industry. A Ryvita instead of a decent sandwich.

The reason it doesn’t work has nothing to do with the brand itself, its social platforms, its awesome partnerships with likes of DJ Khaled, Opera Winfrey or fat-shaming. It’s to do with the simple fact that the people who use the brand don’t and won’t call it by that name.

Maureen from Barnsley isn’t going tell her mates she’s going down to the village hall for her WW meeting. They’re wanting to entice younger users, I get that, but Chloe from Camden won’t use it either. It’d make her sound like a wrestler.

Acronyms just don't suit everyone. They can be impersonal, cold, corporate and actually just boring. That’s the opposite of all the great stuff Weight Watchers are about. The reduction to WW feels like corporate peer pressure, and that’s a shame. It’s trying to be more like the lean, tech upstarts.

Weight Watchers needs to widen its circle of friends, and be proud of the slight awkwardness that comes with having a retro name. It should have the confidence to embrace who it is, whilst still being able to make changes. That’s what it tells its followers, after all.

You be the judge: