9 questions for Atkins CMO Scott Parker

Atkins CMO Scott Parker tells Diana Bradley how the brand contends with perceptions that it's just targeting people who want to lose weight.

What is Atkins’ direction for 2017?
Our messaging is twofold. We are an effective and healthy way to lose weight. But we’re also expanding our target audience to people who want to eat better. We want to [get word out] that Atkins offers low carb alternatives to other snacks. It’s not weight loss messaging at all; rather it’s about healthier snacking in a dramatic way. We are more focused on mission-based messaging to improve America’s nutritional health so everyone can lead healthier lives.

What are the perception challenges for Atkins?
The main outdated perception is that [our diet is] all protein and no carbs. That has never been true. It was bad coverage from a long time ago. Our diet is a moderate balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich vegetables. Our core messaging focuses on the balance and deliciousness of our menu, and our recommended, traditional approach to eating. We’ve been growing at double digits for the last five years. A low-carb, low-sugar-approach to eating is more the norm these days.

You were VP, marketing at Jenny Craig – what did you bring from there to Atkins?
I used celebrities such as Kirstie Alley and Valerie Bertinelli and celebrity testimonials as an effective tool to lead a weight loss marketing campaign. It allows you to get a tremendous amount of PR and adds awareness and believability to the efficacy of your program. We extended that approach at Atkins with Sharon Osbourne and Alyssa Milano.

How do you work with celebrities?
Alyssa Milano has reached her happy weight on Atkins and we’ll continue to deliver that message. After her second child, she struggled with her weight. So we met her to understand her goals and eating preferences. We laid out what would be required of her. At that point, we provided nutritional support and advice. She reports her progress and weight loss, and together we create the advertising campaign. Through her own eyes, she dispels myths about Atkins. She talks about how great, varied, and balanced the food is and how happy she feels having adopted our diet.

How do you engage with the wider health agenda?
Two of the biggest health problems in the U.S. are obesity and type 2 diabetes, and these are directly related to the way people eat. People eat too much sugar and carbs. Atkins’ philosophy has always been to moderate those things and recommend an optimal level of protein, healthy fat, and fiber-rich vegetables. That is good eating practice if you’re trying to lose weight or stay healthy.

How are you getting that message out there?
We remind people that refined carbs turn into sugar. We released our Sugar Gap Study in January, which found that few people understand that. We’re educating people with a year-long, integrated campaign called Hidden Sugars. We partnered with national nonprofit HealthCorps, founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz. Its mission is to improve nutritional habits among America’s youth. We are communicating the "hidden sugar" message with them. We targeted high-school students to establish eating habits that will last later into their lives. Because high-school students are tech- and game-oriented, we brought across our educational message via a VR game.

Tell us about the game.
It teaches kids that even some healthy foods can have an effect on your blood sugar equivalent to multiple teaspoons of sugar, and there are better choices following the optimal protein, natural fat, high-fiber vegetables way of eating. There are better snacking alternatives, both short and long term. It’s a three-minute engaging and educational game that simulates being inside the human body. Players make food choices that are best from a blood sugar perspective. If they make the wrong choice, they’re shown a graphic explaining the impact on their blood sugar that bad snack had.

What about Atkins’ recent partnership with Eat This, Not That!
We’re going to several corporation snack rooms and showing why a low-carb, low-hidden-sugar snack is a better choice. We started in January and released an Eat This, Not That! guide to go with it. We’re going into workplaces in five markets around the country with the Eat This, Not That! editor.

How many people do you oversee and what PR agency do you work with?
Our marketing department is made up of 13 people. MWW is Atkins’ AOR.

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