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Fat Cell —

July 2, 2012

Trigger warning: Discussion of ads that feature weight loss.

My real life job has grown increasingly tolerable since I realized that I could watch “The Daily Show” while working. With two computer screens, I can manage documents while keeping last night’s episode on my peripheral screen. This new arrangement has reintroduced Jon Stewart and his brilliant team of writers into my life, but it has also reintroduced me to something that I hadn’t really endured in quite a while: advertisements.

Sure, I catch an ad here and there when we go to my in-laws for Sunday dinner, but at night, after the girls have gone to bed and I’ve done my writing, Veronica and I are off to watch a show on Netflix or else an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on YouTube. For years now, we have essentially taken ourselves out of the advertising pool, and our favorite shows are no longer held hostage by Pantene Pro V or Weight Watchers or Coca-Cola.

And you know what? I love it.

I love that we have almost entirely detached our entertainment viewing from the pleas of commercial products that are desperately vying for our attention. So, when someone says, “Did you see that commercial?” I gladly respond, “Nope.”

But when you watch “The Daily Show” online, I have to swap access to the best news and media analysis on television (in my opinion) for a few superfluous appeals from Captain Morgan or Axe Body Spray. “Alright, Stewart,” I say to myself, “I hate the commercials, but you’re worth it.”

So, I have sort of viewed my re-exposure to commercials as a sort of sociological experiment. I’m curious what strategies are used to sell products and, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, there’s no shortage of violence, sex and death used to gain the consumer’s attention in the midst of a thousand competing voices.

We already know that sex sells, and that many advertisers have disturbingly converged violence and sex in ads that victimize and brutalize women. But along with these time-tested attention-getters, it seems like our society has created a fourth potent theme that is guaranteed to catch the consumer’s attention: weight loss.

It wasn’t until I saw the following commercial on “The Daily Show” for Verizon Wireless that I realized what a powerful selling point that weight loss has become:

The commercial begins with the song “I Want Candy” as a middle-aged man stands before a mirror examining his gut despondently. He then digs into his pocked for his Verizon 4G LTE phone and a flash of motivation crosses his face. He uses an app from Daily Burn to review the nutrition information of a food cart cheeseburger, then asks for a salad instead. He video chats with a friend standing in front of an outdoor basketball net. The friend asks what sounds like, “Are you ballin’ anyone?” (It may actually be “B-ball anyone?”) followed by the fat man playing basketball and sweating profusely. After that, he uses his tablet to watch a FitSync yoga video, while contorting his body haplessly on the beach. Then his kids video chat with him and hold up some signs that say “You can do it, Dad!” before he says, “Thanks girls” and takes off for a jog, followed by quick shots of him on a stationary bike and playing basketball alone.

And then the moment of truth: his feet step on a scale that will display his weight and BMI, following immediately by a weight loss chart from Withings that shows his progress from the beginning of March, when his weight is approximately 205 pounds, until the end of June, when his weight is 190 pounds and his BMI is 21.2. We then see him pumping his fist because he’s reached his goal.

The next thing we see is this newly-thin man in a dress shirt and bow tie clipping his suspenders in the same bedroom as the beginning of the commercial. Standing in the doorway, his daughter watches in her wedding gown, and she says, “I’m really proud of you Dad.” Then they hug.


But here’s the most interesting part of the commercial (in my opinion).

When the man finally reaches his goal, he weighs 190 pounds and has a BMI of 21.2. That seemed a little off to me. A BMI of 21.2 seems rather low for 190 pounds. So, I whipped out my handy-dandy BMI checker and, sure enough, for a person to have a BMI of 21.2 at 190 pounds, he would have to be 6’7″ tall!

At 205 pounds, he would have had a BMI of 23.1, making him still Normal weight. In fact, for him to be in the Overweight category, he would have to weight 225 pounds.

Whatever the case, based on BMI alone, the man wasn’t fat to begin with, technically speaking.

But the visuals matter more than the facts. He had a gut and he clearly eats too many cheeseburgers from food carts. But with his trusty Verizon 4G LTE phone, he was able to whittle down his weight to a healthy BMI of 21.2! And now his daughter is proud of him!

Talk about manipulative.

It seems that the importance of weight loss has become a selling point for products that have absolutely nothing to do with weight loss. Simply implying that the use of their product could take a customer from “flab to fab” must be a powerful motivator for consumers who are living in this Weight of the Nation world of ours.

But is this the only commercial of its kind? As a self-exiled commercial watcher, I’m limited by the offerings of “The Daily Show.” So, have you seen any other non-diet, non-food-related commercials that emphasize weight loss as a selling point? Just curious.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2012 1:35 pm

    I just saw a commercial the other day from Mattress Firm (if you couldn’t tell, a mattress shop) that had all these “facts” about how having the wrong mattress can make you fat because you’ll eat more (showing a woman eating a donut) and that the nasty old skin cells and sweat will cling to you, making you weigh more. My husband and I just stared at the TV saying, “seriously?!” *le sigh*

    • July 2, 2012 1:52 pm

      I couldn’t find the Mattress Firm commercial, but I found this one:

      Notice the woman who is worried about getting fat is RAIL THIN? Yeah.


      • klrtinkerbelle permalink
        July 2, 2012 1:58 pm

        Yep, that’s pretty similar to the one I saw. What irritated me the most was the assumption that even if not getting a good night’s sleep would make you hungrier, why is it that they think that it’s going to be less healthy food that they eat. Grrrr.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    July 2, 2012 1:36 pm

    I saw that commercial for the first time the other day and my first thought was “Oh hell no!” I don’t usually have to watch commercials anymore – we just switched from DishTV without DVR to Charter with DVR and now I record the shows I want to watch and fast-forward through the commercials when I’m watching my programs (and when DH is watching shows with commercials, I put my earplugs in so I don’t have to hear them while I’m on the computer).
    The sad thing about that commercial (and all weight loss commercials, really) is that nowhere in it is health emphasized. He’s not doing any of that for his health – he’s doing it so he’ll look good at his daughter’s wedding (at least, that seems to be the point of the commercial, and the point of all weight loss commercials, with a slight side nod to health tossed in). Nowhere does it say he’s going to continue those healthy behaviors now that he’s hit his “goal” – but that wouldn’t sell their product nearly as well as telling people their product will help them get thin.
    I’m a Verizon customer, looks like I’m going to have to write them a letter and let them know that their advertising leaves something to be desired when it comes to numbers and facts.

    • July 2, 2012 1:53 pm

      I thought the same thing. “What the hell?” I’m so glad commercials are mostly optional any more.


  3. vesta44 permalink
    July 2, 2012 1:52 pm

    This is what I posted on Verizon’s Facebook page: “You know, Verizon, if you’re going to create a commercial showing how your 4G network can help someone lose weight, you really should check your numbers before you go into production and before you air the commercial. That gentleman whose weight went from 205 lbs to 190 lbs and his BMI is now 21.2? He’d have to be 6 feet 7 inches tall! And at 205 lbs, his BMI would only have been 23.1, still well within the normal range (not even close to being overweight, let alone obese). Playing on the fears of people about their weight isn’t a nice way to sell products that have nothing to do with weight loss – tell me how 4G is going to improve my life, not how it’s going to make me temporarily thinner.”

    • July 2, 2012 4:57 pm

      I have relatives that tall and let me just add one thing: They don’t look a bit like the commercial guy at under 200lbs. There’s no way to fit all that muscle on a 6’7″ frame at that weight AFAIK, on the contrary, they look a little starved at that weight.

      Quite unrealistic commercial too… (Sequences shortened. Like with Siri…)

      • July 3, 2012 8:39 am

        Exactly. And something else I wondered: wouldn’t a 6’7″ person bump his head on the door frame? How tall are those doors?!


        • July 12, 2012 5:39 pm

          Um, doors at my grandparents’ house are 7″ even, I remember them talking about making them that roomy as my grandpa is one of the tall ones. Mine are… 6’7″. Freaky teeny Europeans! Whoops.

          • July 12, 2012 5:41 pm

            Keyboard fail. 7′. We don’t live in Whovillle, FL, sorry!

  4. July 2, 2012 6:50 pm

    I love my DVR and mute button. I can zip the commercials when I watch the shows I record and mute them when I am watching live (which isn’t often)

    • July 3, 2012 8:40 am

      Did you hear about the new DVR that skips still commercials automatically?

      I love DVR!


  5. Janet permalink
    July 11, 2012 1:43 pm

    For all this advertising manipulation, we have Dr. Goebbels to thank. The man was part of a monstrous regime, but he was also a brilliant master of manipulation and propaganda. He taught the west how to play on peoples fears and hopes, to the end to get them to do what you want. He taught us about passive aggressive triggers that can make you do almost anything. Advertisers world wide now use the tools he gave us to make us dance to their tune. And we do. Sad really, that most people don’t think about it or realize that we are being manipulated by a Nazi genius who is long dead. We are smokers, food addicts, tv addicts, and brainwashed into believing all the crap we are told by whichever group is in control of the advertising (be it the weight loss industry, beer industry, fast food, whatever). If the old Doc knew, he’d laugh all the way to his Caymen Islands bank account.

    • July 12, 2012 5:45 pm

      Way older than Goebbels. The Catholics made people believe they could buy a better afterlife for example (still one of my favorite Ponzi schemes in terms of being incredulous that people fell for it). Ancient civilizations created markets and demands before we even crawled out of our caves (OK, that one’s a liiittle overboard). Goebbels was just the guy who learned from history and applied it to the opportunities his time afforded (e.g. TV).

      • Janet permalink
        July 12, 2012 6:37 pm

        Nell, didn’t know that but you are probably right. Goebbels just perfected it, let’s say!

        • July 12, 2012 7:29 pm

          I think the sad thing is that creating demand to ensure power (both through manipulation of that demand and emotional manipulation of the intended receivers) over people is as old as humanity itself, be it a demand of a certain standard or a product. We’re just living in a time where we have the means and leisure to observe and analyze the phenom on a wider scale.

          @Catholic church: Selling indulgences (indulgence? Do I pluralize this?) at massively inflated prices and going as far as managing to manipulate entire families into going into debt for generations to pay for shortening the time ancestors and the buyers themselves would have to spend in purgatory was one of the main reasons for Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation (95 theses, early 16th century) afaik. I’m neither a historian nor well-versed in the particulars of the Christian sub-domain faiths, though, sorry- this is just some stuff I remember reading. I recall being horrified at the ease with which people let themselves be conned, though- and then I watched TV and the horror amplified. Imagine that propaganda machine with not only the printed word and traveling salesmen to go on but also our modern-day tec… and then compare to the diet industry. Help!

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