In Trying to Follow the Wellness Trend, Weight Watchers’ Rebrand Falls Flat

Opinion: WW comes across feeling directionless and forced

Weight Watchers rebranded to WW earlier this week. Weight Watchers

Global weight loss management company Weight Watchers announced this week they renamed to WW, leaving many people confused by the rebrand. The stem of such confusion occurred when the chief executive was unable to explain what the letters WW stood for. They do not stand for Weight Watchers or “Wellness that works,” a phrase the company trademarked, but is instead a marque. Right. A marque of what, exactly?

Before we address the ridiculousness of the confusion, the reason behind the rebrand is at least slightly clearer. Quite rightly, society in general has moved away from obsessive calorie counting and fad diets to promoting the broader components of a healthy lifestyle. The rise of the wellness industry has shifted the conversation away from weight. The brand formerly known as Weight Watchers knows that to retain relevance and appeal to the elusive millennial audience, they need to stand for something more.

If we look back to Weight Watchers origin in 1963 as a genuine disruptor, taking a stand is in their DNA. Launched by Jean Nidetch, a homemaker from Queens, New York, she famously described herself in one interview as “just another former fat housewife.” The beautifully simple points system (supported by regular group meetings was the practical and social solution that provided straightforward relief to the nightmare of weight loss. The revolutionary plan didn’t involve cutting anything out—none of the sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, joy-free diatribe—but instead encouraged eating less rubbish and more vegetables.

Not only is there confusion around what the company stands for, but the change has failed to signal any kind of direction at all.

The brand name reflected their purpose, and you learned to watch your weight. Over the course of time, Weight Watchers grew to include 36,000 meetings across the world each week. Unlike the justified claims against the wellness industry of perpetuating a privileged, elitist version of health—the glossy, unattainable dream that silently judges you for not being able to afford expensive organic produce—Weight Watchers was for everyone. And for several decades, it actually worked.

Their problems arose as the digital age progressed and the brand attempted to follow rather than adapt. From 2012 through 2016, sales fell by 37 percent as a number of confused attempts at modernizing failed. There was major media backlash against an ill-conceived take on body positivity with the distasteful “See Yourself in a Different Light” campaign in Australia. Weight Watchers launched a wearable fitness device that was recalled almost instantly due to fundamental technical issues, and their online experience was no match for the entrance of digital-first players like MyFitnessPal. It was as if the brand was always running to keep up rather than staying true to its own course.

This latest naming fiasco is symptomatic of that kind of stable door strategizing after the horse has already bolted. Waiting too long to move and then rushing in with an ill-considered decision that tries to fix all. The result? Needless complexity. Not only is there confusion around what the company stands for, but the change has failed to signal any kind of direction at all. The fact that the double W has got to be the single hardest set of initials to say demonstrates a truly careless lack of consideration.

CEO Mindy Grossman said, “The marque represents our heritage and history and what we are going forward.” If they had taken the time to consider who they are today but also who they have always been, the result would have been different. Rather than chasing the wellness wave (a phenomenon they could have rightly taken a stance against), a name change might have acted to re-establish their role as the pioneers of the weight loss management industry.

This marque has missed the mark so badly because it’s a classic case of an established brand chasing trends, forgetting the power of purpose as a steadying guide through tough times. It seems more and more brands are scared to stick to their guns, to know they have a product that fundamentally just works and to own that. The fear of disruption is palpable, and the panic has caused Weight Watchers to overlook or stray away from some valuable strengths. It’s as important to know what you stand against as much as what you stand for, and as in this case, not knowing either is disastrous. Today they could be celebrating their timeless formula, distinct point of view, bold simplicity—instead, this hasty decision has literally left them without the words.

Camilla Butcher is a strategist based in the London office of global brand consultancy Siegel+Gale.