Branding doesn’t live in a bubble.
In order to resonate with audiences, marketers must take into account how different audiences view the world. Global brands then have the ongoing task of authenticating themselves and connecting with every market.
Weight management brands, for example, must take extreme care in how they approach body image issues. Enter Weight Watchers France with its bold outcry, “Tu Veux Ou Tu Veux Pas?” (Do You or Don’t You?) to shake things up; now, you’ve got a culturally revealing message on your hands. In fact, Weight Watchers looks so different from market to market that a discussion about the culturalisms that inform its global advertising strategy is wanting.
In a provocative series of images atypical for this genre by US standards, the visual and aesthetic impact of Weight Watchers’ new French print and television ads pushes the edge of pop art. Using highly glossed female lips with various food types jarring from them, the Fred and & Farid-led “Treat Yourself Better” campaign makes a clear statement about restrictive diets in favor of Weight Watchers’ points-based system. The campaign is so provocative and curious that it makes weight loss look sensual. The mantra, "conquer" hunger and "show it who's boss," still plays on the self-sufficiency attitude American viewers are used to seeing, but its snazzy new flavor takes it up a notch by showing consumers that food appreciation, not indulgence, is the key to successful weight loss.
This way of thinking is somewhat alien to US audiences, which have been programmed to associate large quantities of food as valuable (lower-priced, value-sized fast food items, for example). Alternatively, the French enjoy a 2-hour lunch break and savor mealtime, favoring home-cooked food over eating out. Mirielle Guiliano, author of “French Women Don't Get Fat,” points out that eating fast and standing up lends to gaining weight and suggests that French women ward off belly bulge by using the senses while eating. She also supports using a food journal to break unhealthy habits, something Weight Watchers has long supported. With this view, it is easier to see the thought pattern behind the French ads, which translate eating as a less ritualized past-time.
Unlike the French version, the American campaign is almost entirely celebrity-driven. Jennifer Hudson and Charles Barkley are current spokespersons for Weight Watchers. It’s meme, “Believe; because it works” went viral. In turn, Weight Watchers boosted sales by 25 percent to $1.82 billion last year, and its share price jumped 47 percent in 2011. Still, what do the ads say about US values—are US consumers star-struck? Probably not. According to an Adweek/Harris Interactive study, most US consumers say they aren’t swayed by celebrity endorsements; however, brands continue to use them. Regardless, US audiences crave authenticity in advertising and perhaps Hudson’s dramatic 80-pound weight loss translated that more than her celebrity status does.
Weight Watchers UK’s “Do it Our Way” campaign features songstress Alesha Dixon and a mostly female, non-actor cast celebrating their newly slimmed bodies and renewed vigor for life in street-party fashion. From the soundtrack’s bold lyrics and shoppers admiring themselves in mirrors to fearless swimsuit-wearing women, the ad clearly shows positive self-image as a result of weight loss as its core message. The website ads encourage dieters to “play Weight Watchers,” which serves as an extension of the whimsical, playful television ad.
A recent study by The Succeed Foundation with the University of the West of England (UWE) found that UK women feel that more needs to be done to promote positive body image. Specifically, the study also found that:
- 79% of the women surveyed would like to lose weight, despite the fact that the majority of the women sampled (78.37%) were actually within the underweight or 'normal' weight ranges.
- 93% of the women surveyed reported that they had had negative thoughts about their appearance within the past week.
- 39% of the women surveyed reported that they would have cosmetic surgery to change their appearance. Of the 39% who said they would have cosmetic surgery, 76% would opt for multiple surgical procedures.
The UK Weight Watchers’ ads then seem very much in synch with the cultural fabric by focusing on positive body image and self-empowerment.
Weight Watchers’ German ad features modestly dressed women with average waistlines talking about their weight loss struggles and pointing to Weight Watchers’ supportive, self-paced program. The German version is void of the generous claims we often see in weight loss ads. In fact, it seems in-line with the same beauty standards that prompted its most-read women’s magazine, Brigitte, to use everyday models instead of thinner, professional ones. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Andreas Lebert, said, “"for years we've had to use Photoshop to fatten the girls up… But this is disturbing and perverse and what has it got to do with our real reader?”.
Weight Watchers’ China division is only 2 years old; however, rising affluence has made this a potential viable market for Weight Watchers as China has one of the world’s fastest-growing obesity rates. Weight Watchers followed suit by opening an office in Shanghai and is taking steps to promote its program there. Likewise, its South African efforts are still very much at the ground-level. Despite this, and as obesity is a growing, global epidemic, it is conceivable that timing and not location is the biggest factor in its outreach strategy. As Weight Watchers gains footing internationally, we can be sure that intriguing, all-telling marketing will follow, giving us a bird’s eye view of how we compare in our treatment of body image across the globe.
What other campaigns reveal cultural differences among global audiences?