The new ad campaign for Weight Watchers wants us to know that it's on our side. "Diets are mean," reads one slogan; "Go on a diet diet," urges another. Tylenol is now distributing free tips on preventing common aches and pains—only without the help of Tylenol or any other pill. Spokes-people for the companies say their campaigns are "honest" or intended "to educate."
It's an odd strategy: trying to win over consumers by suggesting that we don't need what they're selling. Have companies forgotten about the bottom line? No, they've just learned that shoppers are susceptible to flattery. If customers believe a company "has what's good for me in mind, that's a big, big plus," says C. B. Bhattacharya, a marketing professor at Boston University. The approach has worked for Dove, whose Campaign for Real Beauty, which debuted in 2004, urges women to love their bodies just as they are. It's helped Dove vault from a soapmaker into a $1 billion brand with new lines of lotions and self-tanners. Such ads also stand out in a market cluttered with unrealistic promises. The risk is that you'll decide you're doing fine, no purchase necessary. And no company wants to make that sale.