Those Weight Watchers Ads: “If You’re Happy”

A familiar tune is the driving force of the recent Weight Watcher’s ad, “If You’re Happy.” The TV spot doesn’t even look like a Weight Watcher’s ad. No visual branding, no mention of the company. As the man croons, “if you’re happy and you know it/eat a snack,” a young guy bites a hamburger in the great outdoors, a woman smiles and takes a lick of a minty-looking ice cream cone, and another woman celebrates her bowling-alley bachelorette with friends over sheet cake.

But the song takes a turn as the singer tells us, “if you’re sad and you know it/eat a snack.” A little league team mourns a loss over pizza. A woman sits in the bathtub, clothed, eating cheese puffs. Ice cream lady is out in the rain without an umbrella.

And then the song runs the gamut of emotions, “bored, lonely, sleepy, guilty, stressed,” to close with:

If you’re human/eat your feelings/eat a snack.

With the appropriation of a common children’s song and a host of characters to identify with, Weight Watchers attempts to generalize and normalize overeating. The ad seems to say, there’s a reason you’re eating all this food, we get it. We get you. But for people who exhibit disordered eating patterns, there may not be a reason nor an easy way out a la Weight Watchers.

Americans have a complex relationship with food, and the Weight Watchers marketing team knows this. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts with a lack of access to healthy food, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 2 in 3 adults are overweight or obese.

And no one wants to be fat.

At least that’s what Weight Watchers, and much of media, wants us to believe. Of course, Weight Watcher’s ultimate goal is to capitalize on the idea that overeating has a simple treatment. Specifically, the company’s treatment. And in case there was any need for a reminder, a recent Washington Post article discussed the reason diets don’t work. A person on a diet is biologically setting themselves up to fail. The failure stings more intensely when not sticking to a diet seems to mean that a person will never quite live up to a narrow ideal and be “beautiful.”

The “If You’re Happy” ad is an emotional appeal that seems to embrace and placate, a reminder that we all overeat – it’s human. But the forgotten narrative is that disordered eating is not so easily “fixed.” It takes courage to seek real help for an eating disorder, especially when companies such as Weight Watchers do an effective job with hocking band-aids and putting the perceived failure or success of eating habits on the individual. Eating habits are not just us, they are a combination of shifting psychological, societal, and physical factors, and above all, our eating habits – and our sizes – do not solely define us.

This blog post was sponsored by: Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi