July 2008
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A burger by any other name ...

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Turn on the TV today and you’ll notice a lot of marketers are devoting their 30-second slots to telling you what their products are not, rather than why you should buy them.

Yes, it seems that a type of “rebranding” before only noticeable in politics (as in, “My opponent is a puppy-killing, fire-breathing monster; never mind about me!”) is infecting the whole of Consumerdom.

The ridiculous nature of the claims doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone, either. So far, Weight Watchers and Wendy’s are running neck-and-neck for the victory wreath in the Absurdity Derby.

By now, my views on diets, diet drugs, the type of dangerous mutilation known as “weight-loss surgery,” media frenzy about fat, bigotry masquerading as health concerns, and governmental/employer interference when it comes to your weight are fairly well-known to Free Press readers. I’ll try not to bore you, but I can’t promise not to spout off a few choice words about how evil it is to promote self-hatred for profit.

But I have to say this. Weight Watchers’ latest marketing push takes the fat-free, low-calorie, sugarless cardboard cake. I know you’ve heard its latest slogan: “Diets don’t work. Weight Watchers does!”

The first time I heard this on WW’s newest crop of ads, I kept waiting for the punchline, for Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live fame to leap out and announce it was part of their comedy skit, “Really?!?”

Weight Watchers had after all provided them with a perfect script:

AMY: “Diet giant Weight Watchers’ new commercial claims Weight Watchers is not a diet. And it’s still calling itself ‘Weight Watchers.’ Not a diet? Really?”

SETH: “It’s selling weight-loss programs. You pay them money. They show you how to lose weight. But it’s not a diet. Really?”

Yes, Weight Watchers is really claiming this. It seems more and more people are waking up to the fact that if diets worked, no one would be fat. It seems they’re starting to realize that…gasp!...Weight Watchers is far more interested in swelling its coffers than in reducing the size of our thighs.

Could the mighty WW be feeling a little desperate? As was rightly pointed out by others on the blogosphere, WW is co-opting the language of fat-rights activists who have been saying for years that diets don’t work. The difference between WW and these folks is, of course, that one wants to make money off of you (by convincing the public it needs the “permission” of a “flexible” plan to enjoy food) and the others want merely to live in peace from judgment and persecution.

Weight Watchers, on the other hand, seems to be having a spot of trouble with a little something I like to call THE TRUTH. Which is: Weight Watchers is a diet. And for an estimated 98 percent of folks, diets don’t work.

But even Weight Watchers’ ludicrous claims pale in comparison to those being advanced in Wendy’s latest round of commercials. After listening to 20 seconds of actors extolling the wonders of double bacon cheeseburgers, delivered with fries and a drink in, presumably, mere minutes, a perky voiceover proclaims: “It’s way better than fast food! It’s Wendy’s!”

Again, I waited in vain for the punchline. Then I channeled Seth and Amy myself.

SETH: “Wendy’s is now telling customers it’s not fast food. It still hands you a quick-cooked burger in a paper bag, with itty-bitty ketchup packets, but it’s not fast food? Really?”

AMY: “Seth. Seth. They’re way better than fast food!”

SETH: “So, they took away the drive through?”

AMY: “No, Seth.”

SETH: “Do they have waiters who go to your table to take your order?”

AMY: “Nope. You still have to go to the counter.”

SETH: “Well, does it take them longer to fill the order?”

AMY: “My sources say no.”

SETH: “But they’re better than fast food? Really?”

AMY: “Really.”

I have nothing against Wendy’s, the food served at Wendy’s and certainly not the people who work at Wendy’s, but the company should cancel the contract of whatever idiot in the advertising department came up with this, er, whopper.

I understand America’s latest health craze (also known as the 11th commandment: Thou shalt be slim) has all but declared fast food to be of the devil. I understand why Wendy’s wants to distance itself from the unhealthy image being foisted on it by a culture that remains distressingly puritanical. But if what Wendy’s means is their type of fast food is better than that other fast-food restaurants offer, maybe they should just say so.

People eat at Wendy’s precisely because they are in a hurry, on a budget and like the damn French fries. It’s not rocket science, and we’re not (yet) to the point of equating fast food with crack or child pornography. We’re also not quite to the point of being stupid enough to believe a fast-food restaurant is somehow not a fast-food restaurant.

I only occasionally eat fast food, but next time I have a hankering for it, I’ll go to a chain that makes no bones about what it is. Carl’s Jr., anyone? I hear their bacon burger is only, like, 4,000 points on Weight Watchers’ non-diet!

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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