Day: 2015.10.29

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey.  (Detail of undated photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images)

Define “brilliant”.

Or, as Traci Mann explains for Science of Us, in considering Oprah Winfrey’s investment in Weight Watchers:

Winfrey’s venture is, in fact, a brilliant investment, although not necessarily for the reason she thinks. It’s brilliant not because Weight Watchers works but because it doesn’t. It’s the perfect business model. People give Weight Watchers the credit when they lose weight. Then they regain the weight and blame themselves. This sets them up to join Weight Watchers all over again, and they do.

The company brags about this to its shareholders. According to Weight Watchers’ business plan from 2001 (which I viewed in hard-copy form at a library), its members have “demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrollment over a number of years,” signing up for an average of four separate program cycles. And in an interview for the documentary The Men Who Made Us Thin, former CFO Richard Samber explained that the reason the business was successful was because the majority of customers regained the weight they lost, or as he put it: “That’s where your business comes from.”

Financially, this might seem like a good investment, though “brilliant” is a subjective term. However, part of Oprah Winfrey’s success and fame comes from a pretense of being constructive within the context of society, and signing on to profit from this sort of crass exploitation inflicting powerful human tolls reminds us what she is really made of.

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Image note: Oprah Winfrey. (Detail of undated photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images)

Mann, Tracy. “Oprah’s Investment in Weight Watchers Was Smart Because the Program Doesn’t Work”. Science of Us. 29 October 2015.

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