Atkins Gorges on Social Media for January Blitz

For many marketers, December is the big month for sales, but in the diet industry, it’s all about January, when consumers kick off their New Year’s resolutions. But this year, the change is that social media is more a part of the mix. Social media is key because dieting is a social experience, said Atkins Nutritionals vp-marketing Jennifer McGhee. The company is tracking the weight-loss journey of 10 consumers via testimonial videos posted on social networking communities and McGhee discussed the campaign with Brandweek. Excerpts of the conversation are below.

Brandweek: You’ve tapped actress Courtney Thorne-Smith (from According to Jim) to star in new Atkins ads again this year. What’s new this year?
Jennifer McGhee:
We’re focusing on the simplicity and flexibility of the Atkins diet. It’s about foods you can eat anywhere, and [the program] is very easy to follow. We’re highlighting the meals and recipes consumers can have—it’s just basic foods you shop for at the grocery store—and how simple and easy it is to make them. But we’re also doing something that we haven’t done before: Everything we’re offering is free. There are no sign-up fees or registration. We’re offering free [starter kit and carb counter guides] and three free snack bars to help people get started on their New Year’s resolutions.

BW: You’re also taking on competitors by focusing on the variety and amount of foods one can eat under the Atkins diet. Why?
As we continue to talk about Atkins and the meals and snacks [consumers] can have under our plan, it’s about overall healthy eating and not starving or limiting yourself to a bowl of cereal or just one meal or shake all day to lose weight. It’s about a healthier approach to eating and preparing meals.

BW: Social media plays a bigger role in Atkins’ campaign this year. Why?
People love to have buddies and friends to talk to when dieting. Dieting is [a very] social experience. Our social networking community [on the site] has grown by more than 1,000 percent this year. We have brand evangelists out there that speak highly of Atkins and educate other people. Consumers aspire to hear other people’s stories, so we’re using social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter, and our own Atkins community, to bring that to them. In 2009, we built out our presence on Twitter and Facebook, which are incredibly active in terms of consumer engagement. [Atkins currently has more than 3,000 Facebook members.] As part of our new campaign, we’re also working with consumers by filming them on a weekly basis to document their weight loss journey and struggles, and posting these [videos] on the Web. We currently have more than a million success stories, and we added another one million consumers to our community last year.

BW: How has Atkins fared in the recession?
In 2009, our sales were up 22 percent versus 2008, and certainly, people do gravitate toward comfort foods in tough times. But, with comfort foods being so popular, we’ve also seen a rise in our Atkins Endulge low-sugar snack bars line. [Sales increased 123 percent last year.] Consumers are reaching for little indulgences, but they’re also opting for smart indulgences.

BW: What’s the biggest challenge for diet/weight loss marketers going forward?
For us, it’s making consumers understand that Atkins isn’t a short-term diet or fad but an actual, viable lifestyle. Consumers are looking for the quick fix when it comes to weight loss. But short-term diets lead to short-term solutions.