Here's Why the Latest Weight Watchers Commercial is a Triggering, Shame-Inducing Fail

It’s a multi-million dollar trigger.
Publish date:
January 30, 2015
food, eating disorders, advertising, body image, weight watchers, Media Manipulation

You've probably seen it already, the "If You’re Happy and You Know it" Weight Watchers spot that succeeds in spotlighting — and shaming — people who eat when they're happy, sad, lonely, and scared.

Perhaps the advertising campaign is supposed to be a conversation starter. Maybe the research agency, ad agency, AND the responsible Weight Watchers communications team really don’t understand the complete, flooding shame that binge eaters feel before, during, and after the act. But as lovely as the cinematography is, the spot isn’t raising awareness, or even endearing viewers to the Weight Watchers mission. It’s a multi-million dollar trigger.

Binge eaters wait for doors to close before indulging, and that’s exactly where this commercial hits: at home.

The lyrics:

If you’re happy and you know it eat a snack If you’re happy and you know it eat a snack If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it If you’re happy and you know it eat a snack

If you’re sad and you know it eat a snack If you’re sad and you know it eat a snack If you’re sad because you’re angry, feeling down, or generally bad If you’re sad eat a snack

If you’re bored and you know it eat a snack If you’re lonely and you know it eat a snack! If you’re sleepy and you know it If you’re guilty and you know it

If you’re stressed, eat a snack

If you’re human and you know it, then your face will surely show it If you’re human, eat your feelings, eat a snack.

You’re most likely to see it in those quiet evenings of pajama-bottomed, braless sadness where you’ve resigned yourself to waiting one more day for the diet to start, because one more takeout order isn’t going to make a difference tomorrow. Because, tomorrow.

I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve regularly fluctuated between a size 12 and 00 since high school. This time last year, I was 50-mile-weekend-backpacking Barbie, the three-times-a-day workout weirdo. Less than a year later, at 20 pounds heavier, on a vertically challenged frame, I can’t bring myself to go outside and meet new people. Hell, I can’t even scroll back to last year on my Instagram without upsetting myself.

Are there things I need to work on? Clearly. And you bet I’m 100 percent aware this isn’t some advertisement’s fault. (Full disclosure: I’ve been in PR for almost a decade, these are my people I’m shouting at from my soapbox).

But these 60-second spots do more damage than good. I can't be the only one who mutes the TV, or just walks away, only to wind up in the kitchen 30 minutes later.

Don’t get me wrong; this commercial doesn’t directly cause me to lose control. I’m not talking visions of pepperoni and pineapple pizzas dancing in my head, but it triggers an immediate emotional reaction: shame. Which feeds into the cycle of uncontrolled urges characteristic of Binge Eating Disorder and other, very real and very serious, eating disorders. If I hadn’t thought about cracking open that Seamless app or hitting the pantry, I sure as hell am now. And how many of us wind up losing these internal battles?

For your "Today I learned" files: Binge Eating Disorder, which was only just recognized as a mental disorder by health professionals in 2013, is more common than Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. And unlike Anorexia or Bulimia, it affects men and women at almost the same rate.

It also doesn’t discriminate. You’re just as likely to struggle if you’re Caucasian, Hispanic, or African American.

As someone who has called in door-sized Pizza Hut "party" boxes for one and whose Chinese takeout habitually shows up with five forks and four fortune cookies, I can only write from the perspective of my particular challenge. But there are so many variations of eating disorders that exist alongside our food choices, and almost 50 percent of those with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.

Time for a quickie blast from the past, but don’t worry, there’s some good news here:

In 2011, thanks to pressure from the National Eating Disorders Association, the country’s largest eating disorder association, Yoplait agreed to pull a 30-second trigger commercial featuring a raspberry cheesecake and a woman’s internal struggle. In a Huffington Post piece, a General Mills VP apologized for the company’s lack of sensitivity and admitted, “The thought had never occurred to anyone, and no one raised the point. We aren't sure that everyone saw the ad that way, but if anyone did, that was not our intent and is cause for concern."

Bravo, Yoplait.

In 2007, after blogosphere side-eye and some well-chosen words from the NEDA, Apple took down iMac web slogans that proclaimed, “You can’t be too thin.”

So it comes down to awareness. At the very least, it’s a start.

Shame is a powerful thing and it shouldn’t be coming out of our television screens, wielded by advertisers. Certainly not calibrated for a time where we’re the most vulnerable. It isn’t used to treat or bring attention to any other disorder, so why this one?

I’m over here on my soapbox asking for a touch more advertising sensitivity.

Please. For the sake of everyone who goes to bed tonight hating the last two or two-dozen bites they took, consider your audience, not just how many products you can move.