Widespread skepticism of ‘wellness’ as a buzzword may undercut some marketing efforts

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Widespread skepticism of ‘wellness’ as a buzzword may undercut some marketing efforts

Related tags diet Advertising wellness

New research from Jenny Craig suggests that consumer confusion about the meaning of ‘wellness’ could cause marketing campaigns centered on the concept to fall flat unless companies more clearly define – and back with science – how their products support consumers’ health.

“Having been in the health industry for a long time, I have always wondered whether people actually understood the meaning of the word wellness and what that [concept] meant to them,”​ Monty Sharma, president and CEO of Jenny Craig told FoodNavigator-USA.

To find out, Jenny Craig worked with Branded Research to survey more than 600 Americans. The answer revealed by the survey is that “not just a few, but a lot”​ of Americans are extremely confused by the concept, and as such “don’t trust certain things that are being communicate by many brands”​ that use the term or idea loosely, he said.

Confusion about ‘wellness’ abounds

The survey found that “despite seven in ten Americans stating that a healthy weight is a very important component to their wellness, nearly half don’t know how to define wellness.”

When pushed on the topic, 39% defined wellness as mental health, 32% said it was related to good physical shape, 31% related it to physical activity and 27% connected it to a healthy diet.

But more than anything, 43% said they felt strongly that wellness was simply a buzzword, and 51% of men said they were highly skeptical of the term.

“These findings illustrate the clear confusion around health and wellness that, amid an epidemic of obesity, is not doing much to aid people in finding proven, lasting solutions,”​ according to the study.

It also isn’t doing much to elevate consumers’ opinions of foods, beverages and diets that are promoted as supporting ‘wellness’ in general.

“If people say that ‘wellness’ is a buzzword and ‘I don’t trust that word because I don’t know how it relates to me generally,’ then we [as a company and industry] have to be very specific”​ about how a product or program, such as Jenny Craig, can deliver health benefits, and those claims need to be based on science, Sharma said.

Jenny Craig focuses on science-supported claims

And that is exactly what Jenny Craig is doing with its new ad campaign, which launched in late December, he added.

The television, digital and social media campaign focuses on actual Jenny Craig members and weight loss experts to share real results achieved using Jenny Craig’s ‘scientifically proven program,’ which includes personalized plans, chef-crafted meals and ongoing support with a one-on-one coach, according to the company.

In particular, the campaign focuses on Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results weight loss program, which is based on individuals’ circadian rhythms and other supporting research that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Sharma said.

“When we incorporated the circadian rhythm information into our Rapid Results program last year, we knew at that point specifically what science told us that these particular markers were going to do to help people and we have stayed tried and true to that. We are only talking about those markers and not trying to go beyond those because we don’t have any evidence for that,”​ he explained. “We stay focused on specifically what can be measured.”

This strategy – combined with an average weight loss of 11.6 pounds over a four week program – seems to be resonating with Americans who are attracted to the program.

Spell out specifics for consumers

Based on this success, Sharma recommends that other companies offering functional foods or relying on wellness claims to market their brands also beef up their scientific support.

“Every brand on the grocery store shelf is talking about ‘wellness’ and the consumer is apparently, according to the study, confused and they don’t know what that means specifically,”​ he said.

So to better stand out – and better serve the consumer – he recommends that companies talk specifically about how their product will improve wellness.

“If you say your food improves wellness, well, how does it improve wellness? Companies need to talk about how does it do that. What does it help improve? Don’t just use the general word ‘wellness,’ but specifically say what it improves,”​ he said.

For example, he noted, “if you have a lower carbohydrate item that helps reduce sugar, talk about that specifically. If you are eating more functional foods that are increasing your antioxidants, then you should talk specifically about that so that people can connect these dots better.”

Provide a support network for more impact

Drilling down on the specific health benefits of a product is not only one way that brands currently positioned around wellness can improve their standing with consumers and their sales. Another strategy is to provide consumers additional support and help them form communities, the research suggests.

According to the survey, the vast majority of Americans still have an intense desire to lose weight to improve their health – and they want help.

According to Jenny Craig’s research, 78% of Americans say they have at least 10 pounds or more to lose and nearly one in five want to lose at least 50 pounds.

If the desire is there, and the knowledge for how to achieve the goal, then what is the hold up? Well, the study found that a significant barrier for many who want to lose weight is a lack of support. Less than half of those surveyed said they have adequate support to be at healthy weight and one in three said they do not have the support they need.

Needing a support network may not sound make or break, research from the US Preventive Services Taskforce found it could be. Specifically, it found that successful weight loss comes down to whether dieters had regular, personalized support, such as that provided by Jenny Craig’s one-on-one counseling.

Jenny Craig’s research also shows that a trusted network of friends and family who had succeeded with a particular weight loss program was a key motivator for 31% of respondents to try a diet. Similarly, 26% said they would join a weight loss program specifically for personalized support and 29% said they would do so for expert advice.

While support is a key factor in someone’s ability to stick to a diet and lose weight, it is not the only one.

Other factors to consider

According to Jenny Craig, about half of respondents also pointed to poor eating habits as the primary road block for losing weight, and 47% cited a lack of physical activity and proper exercise.

The solution manufacturers can provide is to offer easier meal solutions, like Jenny Craig does with its premade and proportioned meals.

With that in mind, Sharma said the survey really reinforced many of the benefits and values that are foundational to Jenny Craig. But he added it also emphasized the need to keep science at the forefront of the company’s – and the industry’s – mind.

“We know more about our bodies today than we did five years ago or 10 years ago and we know more about how each body is absorbing food and processing food and metabolizing different from each other and we need to keep those differences in mind as we move forward,”​ as well as provide emotional and mental support through a broader social network, he said.

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