“Everyone is talking about wellness, and to a degree people don’t want to use the word ‘diet’ because they think it’s a more short-term, punitive kind of issue, and that’s not what we are,” said Mindy Grossman, WW’s president and chief executive." “It was very important to us that people understand that this is a 360 degree approach to ‘healthy,’ no matter how you define that for yourself.”
The name change comes during a strong run for the 55-year-old company. In August, WW announced it had finished its second quarter with 4.5 million subscribers -- an increase of 1 million compared to one year ago. Revenue in the second-quarter was up 20 percent year-over-year. In February, Grossman announced a target of hitting $2 billion in revenue by 2020.
Over the past few years, the company has ridden a boost from billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who bought a 10 percent stake in the company in 2015 and signed on to its board of directors. Its share price surged on the heels of the partnership, and Oprah has since debuted in ad campaigns talking about her own weight loss -- and her unflinching love of bread.
Along with the name change, WW announced a WellnessWins rewards program for “for small, everyday behaviors” like tracking meals, activity and weight. The company is also partnering with Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness company, to develop content specific to WW members. Monday’s announcement included news of a voice integration program with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, as well as an updated FitPoints program which tracks and encourages physical activity.
Linda Bolton Weiser, a senior analyst at the financial services company D.A. Davidson, said the name change wasn’t surprising given the company’s past use of the acronym and its increasing emphasis on well being over weight. Weiser said she is projecting strong growth, albeit slightly less than 2018, for the coming year, in part supported by “WellnessWins” and other new initiatives. Weiser said she is forecasting 12 percent revenue growth in 2019, compared to 19 percent growth projected for 2018.
In an analyst report this month, Weiser wrote that WW “will enter 2019 with a solidly growing subscriber base and a new loyalty program that should be a positive for membership growth in diet season 2019.”
A messaging shift away from strict dieting fits with broader cultural trends, said Beth Egan, an advertising professor at Syracuse University.
“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking,” Egan said.
Egan said that typically when companies consider switching their names to acronyms or undergoing some other major rebranding, they work with branding agencies and focus groups to pinpoint what the change could mean to a target audience. Egan said she doubted that that kind of research would have turned up support for “WW."
WW pivoting away from the word “weight” was similar to Kentucky Fried Chicken moving to “KFC" in 1991 to keep itself from “screaming ‘fried’" while still “keeping that heritage,” Egan said. But she added that the new Weight Watchers name is both tricky to pronounce and echoes other well-known acronyms -- like WWE for World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWF for the World Wildlife Fund -- that don’t just stop after the “WW.”
“It almost feels like they lost a letter,” Egan said.
This story has been updated to reflect that D.A. Davidson is a financial services company.