Fat Chance: Get a “Free” Month of Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers just started a new advertising campaign promising a free month of service.

In two different TV commercials the company promotes a “free month”. In one, this is what the narrator says:

“In the time it takes you to watch a bad reality show, you can learn to switch off hungry and lose weight. Right now Weight Watchers is offering a whole month free. Join and get a month of unlimited meetings with online tools so all you need is 45 minutes a week, to take control, turn hungry off, and turn weight loss on. The free month offer is only available for a limited time, so join today. Hurry registration is free too. Weight Watchers. Stop dieting, start living.” [red color added]

*MOUSE PRINT: In the first TV commercial, the fine print disclosure on the screen for approximately three seconds says:

*Must buy first month of monthly pass to get free second month. Automatically renews each month until you cancel. Not available in AZ, HI, AR, TN and other nonparticipating franchise areas. Offer ends 10/17/09.

In another TV commercial, the company promotes a free month of Weight Watchers online:

wwtv

*MOUSE PRINT: As the announcer is saying “sign up now and get one month free” a fine print disclosure in the commercial reads:

*Must purchase a 3 month subscription to Weight Watchers Online to get your 4th month free.

Finally, here is the promotion for a free month as it appears on the homepage of their website:

wwfreemonth

*MOUSE PRINT: The footnotes on the Weight Watcher’s website tell the full story and disclose this (actual size):

wwfootnote

The offer is really “buy one month, get one free” or “buy three months, get the 4th month free.”  That is far different from the impression created that the company is giving away a free month period.  “Get a free month” and “Buy X months, get one free” are two completely different offers. The TV commercials make no oral disclosure at all about a purchase requirement.  All they talk about is getting a free month. 

Particularly for a program that is not selling food, but rather just offering meetings and guidance, the concept of getting a month free without strings is certainly plausible.  (Bally gives away one or two months free every winter, with no purchase requirement.)

Can’t companies play it straight and stop advertising “FREE” but somehow forget to clearly mention the required “BUY” part of an offer in the same breath?

[The Vice President of Public Relations for Weight Watchers International did not respond to a written request for comment for this story.]

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7 thoughts on “Fat Chance: Get a “Free” Month of Weight Watchers”

  1. The word FREE in big bold print seems to more often than not be false. When I was a little girl (many many MANY) years ago, I was shopping with my Mom in a Walgreens and while she was busy shopping I found a display of Playtex Living Gloves with a big bold FREE posted on a sign. I was delighted and helped myself to a pair to give my Mom as a present. When we got home I gave her the gloves and when asked how I paid for them I told her they were free! Well not quite, it was “buy one, get one FREE” So Mother marched me back to Walgreens to return the gloves. It was a lesson I have always kept with me.

  2. This is truely a deceptive ad. Weight Watchers is not giving you a free month, they are giving you a 25% or 50% discount, depending on which plan you select, off the regular price of their program.

    If the advertising industry wants to police itself, this would be a good place to start. The media, whether print or electronic, should reject these kinds of deceptiive ads. Legal action by govermental bodies is to slow. This type of advertising needs to be nipped in the bud, before it is broacast. Shame on Weight Watchers for writing the ad, and on the media for presenting it.

  3. Dictionary definitions (from an assortment of English and American language dictionaries) simply do not allow for this usage of the word “Free” … Free means without any attachment, exception or burden … Free means “having no trade restrictions. This type of advertisement falsely appears to offer something that does not exist. Weight Watchers is not alone … the airwaves are full of such falsehoods.

  4. Oh, there’s a free month alright, you just have to have your microscope handy to read what hoops and cars you have to jump through and over to get it. Unfortunately fair and honest advertising about eating your veggies twice a day and excising can’t compare to the revenue these companies get when you throw your money at them. If we make the fast talking guy read an entire page of smallprint in 5 seconds +1o pitch will it be legal? If we take the dot of that small print and convert to a single dot is that okay?

    This world (although I live in the United States) needs dignity broadcasting, is public media still in favour? Hopefully in the future consumer awareness will dominate this.

  5. This is truely a deceptive ad. Weight Watchers is not giving you a free month, they are giving you a 25% or 50% discount, depending on which plan you select, off the regular price of their program.
    If the advertising industry wants to police itself, this would be a good place to start. The media, whether print or electronic, should reject these kinds of deceptiive ads. Legal action by govermental bodies is to slow. This type of advertising needs to be nipped in the bud, before it is broacast. Shame on Weight Watchers for writing the ad, and on the media for presenting it.

  6. It looks like they are at it again. This time promising a “free to join online”. We just watched the add, but as before, when you go to the site they tell you to go to, it says “Free, when you buy a 3 month plan” We thought you can not put ads like this on American TV, but as we see here, I guess you can, and over and over as well. We wrote to WeightWatchers, but haven’t heard from them. So, “BEWARE OF ANYTHING WEIGHTWATCHERS SAYS”
    Here is a copy of what we wrote: We just saw your add on TV about the FREE Weightwatchers online offer. But you are just lying to the public. When you go to your site to register, you say it is FREE only if you pay. That is a blatant deception, and an outright lie. We are going to contact the networks and anyone else we can to stop you from cheating people. You just want to get them to your site, and then charge them. Things must be going very bad for your company to sink to such levels of deception. You even have the nerve to make the url “free to join”. We had thought about joining your organization many times over the years, but we can see now, your goal is to make money and not help people. We are just so shocked and disappointed to see what we always thought was an ethical company fall to such low level of deception.

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