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The ever-changing world of weight loss programs, dieting and wellness can be difficult to keep track of. Fat is bad and good. Carbs are good and bad. Fast for this long. Fast for that long. Don’t fast at all. It’s a whirlwind of trends, celebrity endorsements, quick fixes and wellness-based whole lifestyle plans, each navigating for market share and authenticity.
Marketers from Companies New & Established Compete for Market Share
Americans spend more than $60 billion dollars annually on health and fitness, from gym memberships to supplements. And though weight loss is a mature and competitive market, new companies regularly take a piece of the (low calorie) pie, like the recent significant equity raise from Love Good Fats. The keto-diet based Canadian nutritional supplement company is expanding their grab-and-go bars to 450 Whole Foods stores in the U.S., launching their expansion with a marketing campaign across digital and social. Love Good Fats growth is neatly leveraged with the growing global protein supplement market, which currently exceeds $12.4 billion in sales each year.
Meanwhile, some established weight loss companies are feeling the need to rebrand and reset. Earlier this year, Weight Watchers changed their name to WW, and embraced wellness over weight loss. The concept of wellness, which focuses more on nutrition, exercise and holistic self-care, is often propelled by celebrity brands like Goop and strong presences on Instagram and other social channels.
The Early Days of Weight Loss Plans Relied on Word of Mouth & Print Campaigns
The 1930s grapefruit diet essentially told dieters to eat grapefruits with or in lieu of their meals. The rationale had something to do with appetite suppression and enzymes, but the effectiveness was actually based on eating very few calories. Not surprisingly this diet was promoted by the citrus growers. Grapefruit would continue to be a part of many dieting plans throughout the century, and the grapefruit diet was the target of Domino sugar in the 1950s as a part of their Domino Sugar Diet campaign. Sugar would also appear and re-appear many times over the following decades as both weight loss villain and ally.
The 1950s also introduced the cabbage soup diet, another weight loss “plan” based on a low calorie intake. It was stinky and ultimately ineffective in the long term. The popularity of dieting with cabbage seems to have come primarily from word of the mouth, although many books, featuring different versions of the cabbage diet and similar deprivation approaches, have been written since.
Diet pills have been around since the early 20th century, but the 1960s and 1970s saw a noticeable uptick in sales and marketing of the controversial diet aids. Consumers spent nearly $120 million dollars on “rainbow pills” in 1967. So named for their green, white, blue, pink, gray and yellow tablets, the marketing of diet pills has usually focused on quick weight loss and ease of use, even calling the pills “candy” in one branding campaign. Over the years, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission, regulated what could be in the pills and what advertisers could say about them.
Modern Ideas About Exercise Introduced Celebrity Endorsements & Product Marketing
As of 2012 there were 153,000 health clubs across America, but until the 1980s exercise wasn’t really a part of how weight loss was marketed. The woman who changed all of that? Jane Fonda. In a rebrand for the ages, the actress went from 1970s serious actress and anti-war activist to leg-warmer wearing aerobics enthusiast, credited with ushering in VHS, work-out fashion and exercise as a group activity. Fonda’s 1982 work-out video sold 17 million copies, helping ignite VCR sales.
Besides Fonda, another winner in the aerobics craze was Reebok, who in the words of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, “came out of nowhere” to win the aerobics market. Their sleek, leather shoe beat out Nike’s clunkier version, and their brand became synonymous with aerobics for many years.
The 1990s were all about high-protein diets with Atkins and South Beach Diet leading the craze. Considered a positive move away from the low-fat advice that characterized many diets at the time, Dr. Atkins himself appeared in ads for the diet, presented as a thought leader among dieticians. Celebrity endorsements for the brand name continue today, with Rob Lowe recently signing a contract to shill for Atkins-branded products.
Whole Eating, All Natural & Organic Are the Marketing Buzz Words that Define Health & Wellness in the 2000s
A more holistic approach to dieting took over in the 2000s. Across social channels celebrities shared their diet and wellness regimens, from keto to veganism and macrobiotic diets. The rise of brands like Goop, Fabletics and Honest Co heavily invested in or created by movie stars, championed all manner of unique health trends, expensive work out gear and effective cleanse or detox. How-to videos, behind the scenes photo shoots, multi-vertical websites and user generated content are all utilized to create brand awareness and drive sales.
Dieting fads, whether effective, trendy or strange, wax and wane in popularity with new information about health and medicine. Especially in an ever-evolving marketplace like weight loss, last year’s successful marketing strategies are not guaranteed to work this year. Whether new to the market or long-established, weight loss and wellness brands seem to succeed when aligned with the consumer trends of the moment.
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