Barbara Lippert’s Critique: A Weight Lifted

The commercial opens with a visual emptiness that’s surprising. The screen is image-free, and we hear Cher, with all of her heartfelt, outsider-who-feels-your-pain emotion (despite the love from Jack on Will & Grace), belting out her “Song for the Lonely.”

Then the blankness moves to storytelling, with elevated cinematography, insightful copy lines, nice editing, beat-heavy music, top- and bottom-heavy women. … Hey, I know that’s mean, but lately, thankfully, our eyes are getting used to seeing a little flesh in ads. (Although, unlike the Dove ads, this time it’s mostly covered.) So we’re intrigued, and still watching.

Cleverer and better-looking than most pharmaceutical spots, it still could be an ad for some expensive new weight-loss drug or perhaps a dreamy new spa for plus-size vacationers (that would be an idea with traction). Regardless, I was honestly drawn in.

It turns out it’s a Weight Watchers commercial (in 30- and 60-second versions), the first work for the category leader from Young & Rubicam since it won the account in November. A big branding piece called “Anthem,” it’s most interesting at first for what it isn’t:

There’s no mention of diets or points, no scales or tape measures cinching in waists, no tabletop shots of artfully arrayed crudite or co-workers lifting their chopsticks in lunchtime celebration. (Yes, you can eat out!) Better yet, no spokes-celebs. (For whatever reason, those spots with the Duchess really got on my nerves, especially when she spoke about eating a “banahna.”)

Instead, the spot seems respectful and welcoming of overweight women. This is no small feat, as the din over the Dove ads suggests. Because obesity is unhealthy, disdain for it is one of the last acceptable prejudices in our culture. This spot seems carefully constructed to target the huge population of women (and some men) who’ve already been on a million diets and even have report cards floating around from previous Weight Watchers stints. It gets points for understanding the struggle.

In the beginning, the cinematography is romantic movie-worthy (the director did Snow Falling on Cedars) but it moves on to show “real” women described by copy lines, and that gets intense: “There is more than one woman who feels like the fattest woman in the room,” the lettering says over one scene, as we see a slightly overweight woman nicely done up in a black cocktail dress, “smoothing” the material over her stomach as she tentatively enters what looks to be an art-gallery opening. But the same anxiety applies to any gathering, especially school reunions. (“If you are one of those people who’s excited to go to high-school reunions, that means you were one of the popular jerks who tormented me every day!” as Kathy Griffin likes to say.)

Another line that really hits home is about women “who’d rather buy shoes than shop for clothes,” as our sweet-faced chubette picks at a matronly, kind of lumpy sweater set.

But then the motivation part sets in—doors, windows and curtains are pushed open, and women frolic and dance and even float around in bathing suits, and the copy is even more psychologically careful and targeted: “A place to shape what works and laugh at what doesn’t.”

OK, so let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t in the spot.

I was totally charmed the first time I saw it on TV, but I have friends who think it’s “for losers” and “filled with clichés.” I’ll grant that I like the hard-hitting parts in the beginning better than the jubilation, which does start looking corny. Also, I’m not into images of “kooky” overweight women who are dressed in funny hats and boas to show just how sassy they are (plus it’s been done before). And I’ll agree that the images are sometimes overly literal in matching the words. But I really like the image of the woman (a police officer in Canada in real life) walking down the hall in her bra, shot from the back. That’s fresh.

But, as with Dove and Nike, there is an inherent contradiction here. Though Dove is doing great things in allowing our eyes to adjust to the bodies of non-size 2’s, and so transforming the cultural idea of “beauty,” those ads sell a cream that science says simply does not work. A recent Nike print ad triumphantly announces, “My butt is big,” but the butt shown (even though it’s abstracted to be a sort of universal rear) looks fabulous to me; there’s an even bigger “but” in the third line of the copy: “… and ten thousand lunges have made it rounder but not smaller.”

Most people in the Weight Watchers target (as opposed to Nike) could dream of having a butt like the one shown but would never be prepared to do the lunges.

The contradiction here is in the use of Cher’s music. Sure, it has a compelling beat, and it speaks to the feelings conjured up in the spot. But Cher is one of the skinniest and most surgically altered people on the planet.

I do like the tagline, “The door is always open.” It comes right out of the sensibility of the spot, and as an invitation, it also alludes to the meetings (usually held in rooms that are decidedly non-spa-like).

Still, along with all the other break-out-of-the-bag-o’-bones-mode of beauty ads appearing recently, I’m going to give this spot two chopsticks up. These days, we could do worse than watch something beautiful that ends with, “It’s gonna be alright.”



Weight Watchers

Agency

Young & Rubicam, New York

Executive creative director

Richard Butt

Group creative

director, copywriter

Rachel Howald

Art directors

Ahmer Kalam,

Jeff Blouin,

Carla Tesak

Producer

Jeremy Fox

Director of

photography

Wally Pfister

Director

Scott Hicks, Independent Media

Editor

Geordie Anderson, Blue Rock Editorial