Harish Bhat

Brands and the weight loss circus

Harish Bhat | Updated on July 25, 2013

Elements of a weighty plan

Kellogg’s recently began advertising to Indian consumers, calling on them to lose weight by eating its special cereal flakes for breakfast. If you visit Kellogg’s online, you are welcomed by a grand message that urges ladies to take a “first step towards a new you, by including low-fat cereal as part of your daily breakfast.” A television advertisement tells the story of how the lissome Lara Dutta slimmed down by eating Kellogg’s cereal, and kept her husband intrigued with her new look.

It appears that this iconic brand, which had initially found it a challenge to break into entrenched Indian breakfast habits, has now finally discovered a winning mantra – weight loss! This is not a promise that many assorted heavy Indian breakfasts – parathas, masala dosas, or puri bhaji – can easily make, so Kellogg’s may yet succeed in differentiating itself and winning this war. Particularly because weight loss is becoming so important to consumers in India and across the world.

Indeed, weight loss features right on top of consumers’ desires today. Pick up a list of New Year’s resolutions of any urban affluent Indian consumer, and you can be fairly sure that losing weight will feature prominently. Yet it is perhaps the most difficult desire to achieve, far more challenging than getting the right job or buying that car you have set your heart on. But don’t despair. For every pound you wish to shed, there is a brand round the corner that promises to help you. As modern lifestyles create obesity and weight gain, helping consumers lose weight is fast becoming a favourite obsession of brands.

If you thought food was the only category that actively engages in weight loss marketing, think again. Brands of non-alcoholic beverages, beers, clothes, shoes, spas and gymnasiums, various accessories … all of them generously offer to help us cut the flab. The approaches they use to win the consumer’s heart (oops, waistline) are manifold. Read about some of these, and you will see how interesting and relevant this area of marketing is fast turning out to be.

Healthy eating

This is the most straightforward appeal that brands put forward, and is largely restricted to foods and beverages. Kellogg’s falls into this space. So does Quaker or Saffola oats. They appeal to consumers to substitute current highly calorific consumption with their weight-reducing delights. Often, some new food technology or research behind the product is quoted as a credible basis for the claim. As in the case of Kellogg’s Special K cereals, marketers also put forward specific weight loss targets, which consumers love to hear about and believe in – for example, lose two kilograms in two weeks. Who would not want to achieve that, to replicate the ways of Lara Dutta and look like her, even if it means missing out on those incredibly soft, deep fried medu vadas that make you salivate all the time? Many consumers are also attracted to brands of green tea for the same reason – a retailer once told me that virtually all his buyers of green tea were neighbourhood housewives who were specifically trying to lose weight.

Less sinful indulgence

In direct contrast to brands which encourage healthy eating or drinking are other brands which permit you to indulge in pleasurable (not necessarily healthy) products in a “less sinful” manner, thereby cutting down on possible weight gain. The best example of this is the category of diet drinks such as Diet Coke. You can continue to indulge your urge for sweet carbonated soft drinks, but without any of the needless calories that would have added to your weight. The appeal of diet products is so high worldwide that a brand such as Diet Coke is valued today at nearly $14 billion, and features second only to Coke amongst the most valuable global beverage brands, in this year’s annual Brandz rankings. Other brands which ride on this insight are Bud Light, the famous low-calorie version of Budweiser beer, and the recently launched Cadbury Crispello chocolate bars, which contain nearly 40 per cent fewer calories than regular chocolate bars, specifically targeted at women who are worried about putting on weight.

Weight loss clothing

Brands of clothing have also happily climbed on to the weight loss wagon. Here is an example. Lunaling, a weight loss clothing company, markets shorts, capris and leggings made using technology that helps women shed weight. These clothes use your natural body temperature during any form of exercise to increase heat around areas which trouble women most – typically, legs, thighs, tummy and the bottom. The brand claims that energy expenditure increases by 6 per cent during workouts when you wear these wonderful new clothes, and then by more than 20 per cent after the workout. Hence you burn more fat, and lose more weight, without any additional effort. As all this is likely to have tremendous appeal, we should be seeing many more brands in this arena very soon, in India too.

Deceptively slim clothing

Quite different from clothing that drives actual weight loss is clothing that makes you appear to have lost weight, though, in actual fact, the flab is still intact. Levi’s skinny jeans are an excellent illustration. They offer a closely tailored fit to accentuate a woman’s shape, from hip to thigh, and are promoted as the right choice for women that want a slim look. Similarly, several brands offer wide leg jeans, an excellent way for women to disguise a heavier bottom half. For men, there are Allen Solly Slim Fit shirts. For some of us, it may be a struggle to get into these impossibly narrow pieces of clothing, but the effort is worth it if you appear to have magically slimmed down. As perception is a form of reality, deceptively slim clothing is an excellent method to “lose weight”!

Weight loss accessories

There are a range of accessories that encourage or enable weight loss. Digital weighing scales are making their appearance in many more homes. Brands such as Motorola and BodyMedia market electronic trackers that tell you exactly how many calories you have burnt, and therefore how much weight you have lost. In an entirely different space, Nike or Reebok walking or running shoes are accessories that indirectly point towards weight loss, even though their direct promise is to make the consumer more active and just do it. So while consumers buy them to be more active, many of them are subliminally hoping that such activity will also help them shed weight. And then, of course, there are gym and destination brands such as VLCC and Fitness First, which offer several weight loss accessories under a single roof.

Slimming Books

If weight loss is so high in people’s minds, can publishers and authors be far behind? Virtually every major publishing brand has launched a range of weighty books that tell us how we can slim down. Titles range from the rhyming Weight Loss Boss to the interesting Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha. These books cover various diet regimens and calorie counts, and some even provide spiritual motivation for hitting the gym every day. Virtually every bestseller list in India has at least one book on weight loss. I wonder if some of these books really help, but they surely sell very well.

This exploration has thrown up how weight loss is being targeted by so many diverse categories and brands, all at once. I think it is still early days, because the modern world will continue putting on lots more weight, and will need ever more help in losing it. It won’t be long before cars offer weight-loss inducing models, or travel agencies offer weight-loss holidays to exotic destinations. So, even as you watch your calorie intake, do track this interesting marketing space.

(Harish Bhat is Managing Director and CEO of Tata Global Beverages Ltd, and author of Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution. These are his personal views These are his personal views. bhatharish@hotmail.com ).

Published on July 25, 2013

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