from “weight loss” to “detox”: sadie nardini’s ad copy about-face

Before: Udemy ad copy for Sadie Nardini’s course, April 19 ~ allegedly posted without approval from Nardini

After: Udemy ad copy for Sadie Nardini’s course, April 21 ~ rewritten to reflect “the full spectrum of the course”

Last week, a Facebook ad for Sadie Nardini’s “summer yoga body” online course caught my attention and warranted a blog post questioning the integrity of using weight loss as a yoga marketing tactic. A hot conversation ensued and Nardini herself jumped in to express her dismay over ad copy that allegedly hadn’t been approved by her. By the end of the day, the text on the Udemy website had been changed (see images above).

This morning, Nardini commented again with another update:

I wanted to report back and let you know that I have had a great discussion about the course advertisements with Pedro from Udemy.

I have to say, he was immediately very open to changing the ads, on his dime, and was upset himself that they were upsetting people. Apparently, they extracted the weight loss and anti-aging benefits of my (and many) yoga styles, and failed to give a broader, more mind-body-spirit view of the 14-day program.

As they did not run the ad copy by me first, I didn’t have a chance to let them know this more superficial focus would not fly with we yogis–including me. He nor his marketing team understood the yoga world, so the marketing campaign came from a well-meaning, but uneducated place. And this conversation has helped them evolve in their sensitivity and grasp of why we all practice this discipline, instead of, say, the Stairmaster.

I, as always, remain committed to bringing the practice of yoga to students in a way that shows them all the practical benefits, on all levels. As such, I helped Udemy re-write the ad copy to reflect the full spectrum of the course’s offering, including detox, fitness and empowerment.

First of all, awesome that Nardini was willing to listen, engage and take action, without getting defensive. Many of us in the blogging community chalked this up as proof of the power of blogging, and Nardini was praised for her responsiveness.

Which got me wondering: what exactly is Udemy.com and what kind of online yoga courses are they promoting? According to their About page, “Udemy’s goal is to disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online. Just as blogging democratized the publishing industry (enabling anyone to instantly become a journalist), Udemy seeks to dramatically change education by empowering millions of experts around the world to teach & share what they know.”

Sounds pretty cool, actually. Basically, Udemy appears to be a platform where anybody can share their passion and expertise. So how do you create a course? Udemy has “built an incredible platform that makes it easy for anyone to build an online course.” Their Create a Course page tells us that to get started you just have to: “Pick a subject; title your course; write up a description; and create your bio.”

Wait a second… instructors pick their own titles and write their own descriptions? There’s no marketing middleperson?

By all appearances, people who choose to offer a course on Udemy actually are independent and have almost complete autonomy over their course content. On their Instructor Support page, in response to the question, “Does Udemy own my course content?” they say: “Positutely not – since we are not a publisher (just the platform), we have no rights to your course content, other than the terms you agree to if you sign up to be a paid instructor.” And when asked about promotion of Udemy courses, their official response is: “In a small, tightly wrapped nutshell, you shouldn’t count on Udemy to promote your course… We do in fact promote some of our instructors, but only after they’ve invested in promoting it themselves.”

So. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Udemy as a shameless marketing machine that will go to any lengths to sell its courses, even if it means pimping a more “superficial focus” of yoga. However, after a little digging around, it seems evident that Nardini holds the reins on her Udemy offering and made a quick turnaround to save face.

Now, I’m wondering if Udemy offers any courses on How To Sell Your Services Without Lying. Looks like somebody might need to brush up on those skills…

See earlier: summer yoga body: sadie nardini’s facebook ad campaign

28 Comments

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  1. Kind of off topic, but as a writer who is still paying off her journalism degree, I kind of take offense to the whole blogging makes anyone into a journalist thing. It’s kind of like saying Instagran turns everyone into a photographer. Doesn’t education and skill and talent count for anything anymore? Sad times.

  2. Linda: The problem I have the piece you linked is that it takes an entirely Euro-centric view of so-called guru culture. Perhaps Americans have in fifty years or so failed to fully understand and incorporate a student-teacher relationship from the East with thousands of years of time to develop on its own. This says more about American culture than it does a guru-disciple one. The bottom line, not everyone is cut out for that kind of a relationship, and to suggest that it is a thing of the past, is naive at best (at least when we look at the cultures beyond our own [and there are many!] that still very much employ such a system).

    Rosanne: I contacted Udemy around the time of your first article on this subject and asked them about who comes up with the ads. This was their response:

    “Feel free to suggest ideas for the copy and creatives. Otherwise we get inspiration from your marketing material and course description, and build the ads ourselves. We should make it clear that we test several versions of the ads, very closely track returns and put more money if the creatives & the course performs well. Because of the pace of testing we have, it’s not practical to run by every creative with the instructors.”

    So, while it’s *possible* SN did not come up with the copy, seeing as I (or anyone else) can’t seem to make a spelling error on his/her site without SN commenting, I find it hard to believe the original lame copy went unnoticed. VERY hard for me to believe. My feeling is that it was simply left in place and only changed when a stink arose. But, I wasn’t there or involved, so I’ll just leave it at that…. I try and take people at their word. Emphasis on *try*.

    But, I’d keep an eye on this one and keep connecting those dots. You’re doing wonderfully.
    AB

    • hey babarazzi ~ thanks for the context from Udemy. by “ads,” are they talking the ads that appear on facebook or the course description pages (which is the copy in both of the screen shots at the top of the post)?

      i based my research only on what i found on the public parts of the Udemy site, which makes it appear that anybody can sign up to offer a course, give it a name, write up a course description and develop a curriculum. however, perhaps that’s not the case once you actually create an account.

      • I forgot to mention that my question was specifically about generating a Facebook ad. The copy for the course itself (on the Udemy site) is presumably still totally user-generated.

  3. Babarazzi, I read the article and perhaps I am misinterpreting, but I think “guru” in this case means anyone who is trying to come across as a spiritual teacher of sorts for profit (which is a Eurocentric model). The Indian gurus are not mentioned and in fact Native Elders are mentioned instead, who pretty much work along the same lines as their Indian counterparts.

    • Hey, Jane. You know, I read it on the run and perhaps missed the tone/angle you’re referring to. Will need to look back and see. Thanks for the heads up!!!

    • Ok. Follow-up take:

      I think the article is somewhere in between what I originally said and kinda what you were referring to. Yes, the article gives props to traditional healing through the lens of the traditions that employed it (ie. “native” traditions, etc.). However, the article never differentiates between the American appropriation of “guru culture” and the culture from which the guru model arose (say, the cultures along the Indus Valley, for example). In not doing so, the article suggests (if not flat out says) that the age of the guru is over. Including an image of Pattabhi Jois (with the word “FAIL” overlaid) giving an assist that in India would not be totally uncommon (there is a longer more in depth disc. of this photo elsewhere online), really seems to suggest that the author is saying that gurus as a concept/on the whole are on their way out. This, as I said before, remains for me a Euro-centric take on the role and longevity of the role of the guru.

      That said, I realize now after rereading the piece (prompted by you, thank you!) that what I am referring to is actually a much smaller aspect of the article’s dominant “thesis” (if there really is one), and that the idea about the coming shift and needing to get your ducks in a row being essential to the transition, is something we can all mostly agree on.

      If I were editing this bad boy, I’d get the author to really get specific on the initial guru critique, if not drop it entirely.

      Anyway, that’s just how my brain works….

  4. Babarazzi, I took the article as Jane suggests: “anyone who is trying to come across as a spiritual teacher of sorts for profit (which is a Eurocentric model).” see my take on gurus here: http://lindasyoga.com/2012/03/29/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-guru/

    I have nothing against the guru-student relationship! I spend my winters in India!

    don’t ya just love modern “yoga” advertising: weight loss and/or detox — we’re (mostly women) too fat and too dirty…when are women going to stop buying into the message that there is always something wrong?

  5. ok, i’m really happy that the facebook ad was changed and no longer reflects such a damaging (and let’s admit- sexist) bent.
    Thank you Roseanne for writing about this and being the cause of change 🙂

  6. Hi all,

    Just wanted to let you know that for some reason, this author has assumed a lot about my course without contacting me or Udemy to back up these (erroneous) assumptions.

    These ads are a new development from Udemy, so their web page might not yet reflect their initiative, which comes, I believe, from a positive place.

    Once again, I did not get to see nor approve the Facebook ads that you took issue with. They were drawn from part of the copy that I wrote for the course, which was always a mind-body detox and empowerment course. But the part did not reflect the whole, and I agreed that they needed more depth and context.

    When your article came out, it directed my attention to the ads, which I too felt came across as more superficial and hard-sell than I was comfortable with. When I approached the (very nice) owner of Udemy about this, he moved immediately to reframe the ads to be closer to my actual course content, which I have not changed since I created it.

    Their marketing department communicated with me, and together we created a new series of ads that stay true to the more holistic benefits of the 14-day course. I learned from this experience that I need to be more involved in third-party marketing. Had I been working more closely with them in the beginning, this whole discussion would not have happened, a discussion about body image that I actually agree with and am glad got to be promoted because of my faux-pas.

    As such, I will gladly be a catalyst for raising awareness about acceptance, but also push for greater health and wellness on all levels– including the body. How we treat our physical selves reflects the state of balance we are in on all levels. There is no separation.

    Should you wish to go deeper with your assessment of my course, just let me know. I’m happy to send you a copy of it to try in your own life and then perhaps you can speak from experience with the course itself, rather than just reading a web page and then speaking about internal complexities you are not privy to.

    I’m confused as to why you would call me a liar, directly or inderectly, when I have been extremely transparent about this process, each step of which is easily corroborated, should you choose to ask anyone actually involved.

    As a trained journalist, I practice ethics and responsible journalism as part of my yoga, which extends to maintaining integrity in mind, body, spirit, and how i conduct myself in all my relationships–online or otherwise. Anyone who actually know a me can tell you the same.

    Perhaps I should create that as my next course…

    Be well, everyone!
    Sadie

  7. hi sadie ~ thanks for stopping by and getting involved in the discussion. i don’t have any criticism of the content of your course, as i don’t have personal experience of it. but, based on what i saw on the Udemy course page, i have some concerns about how it’s been presented and marketed.

    the way i see it, there are two things here:
    #1 the facebook ad copy (which is what originally directed me to the Udemy course page)
    #2 the course title and description copy on the Udemy course page

    as for #1, it appears that the ad was created without your approval and you took steps to change that. awesome.

    however, the ad copy was based on #2. according to Udemy’s policy, anyone can create a course, title it, and write a course description (they say so on their page: http://www.udemy.com/teach).

    based on this information, i can infer that the course was originally titled “Lose Weight and Look Younger with Yoga,” a title that you, as the course instructor, most likely came up with. i can also infer that the promise to “Get and Keep a Summer Yoga Body with Sadie Nardini” was also written by the course instructor.

    the images at the top of this blog post are screen shots taken from the Udemy course page: http://www.udemy.com/yoga-for-weight-loss-and-core-strength-with-sadie-nardini/ (you’ll notice that the permalink reflects the original course title). the top image was taken on april 19, the second image was taken on april 21. there is a dramatic difference between the two versions.

    i’m not critiquing the content of your course, as i haven’t experienced it. however, i am critiquing how the course has been marketed and advertised. i appreciate your efforts to engage in dialogue and present your side of the story. but i have to admit that i don’t think you’re being entirely accountable or transparent here.

    so i’d like to give you the opportunity to be honest and transparent by answering the following questions: did you write the original title and course description? and, upon receiving feedback via the first IAYB post, did you return to your course and rewrite the copy?

    i look forward to your response, thanks!

  8. Hi, Roseanne,

    Thanks for clarifying your intentions.

    I have to say, with all respect, that you inferred incorrectly.

    First of all, my original course title was 14-Day Yoga for Weight Loss and Core Strength, not, as you suggested, “Lose Weight and Look Younger with Yoga.” Those are two different titles, and different ideas.

    Something that might be confusing to you, unless you read the course itself, or know my teachings, is that when I say “weight loss”, I mean getting rid of what weighs one down on ALL levels. I immediately describe that in my marketing copy, as well as making sure to say “excess weight”, not just all weight.

    As I explain in the copy for the course, and the course itself, the benefits of the practice are holistic, from weight loss ( ONLY IF YOU NEED IT, otherwise, I recommend healthy weight maintenance) to detoxification, to core strength.

    Core strength, if you know my teaching at all, means empowerment, self-trust, confidence and living from center on ALL levels–body, emotions, mind, spirit.

    And, again, the ad copy “Get and keep a summer body” was NOT written by me. Those are not words I would even use.

    Udemy was a site I thought was cool and I wanted to help support. They originally approached me, and wanted me to do a “14-Day Bikini Body” course, thinking that their subscribers would want that.

    I said no, since I always do my courses–or anything–in a way that addresses the mind-body connection, and not just the body.

    But I instead agreed to create a course that people could use going into spring and summer to look and feel their best–inside and out.

    It’s a pure offering, and I stand behind it 100%. And, furthermore, so what if part of the benefits of this yoga is to tone and firm and detox and strengthen the physical body? Great! I love it when empowerment happens through any doorway. Bring it on. As a yogi and yoga teacher, I know that when one looks better, they feel better, and vice-versa. Who cares which path people take to their best selves–it’s all yoga, baby, right?

    I only changed the title because I thought I could do better, and I wanted to be crystal-clear with people, such as yourself, and other readers, who may see a limited view of some of these words and not get the deeper meaning behind them that I intended.

    No conspiracy here.
    Be well,

    Sadie

  9. thanks for responding, sadie.

    i still have to admit that some pieces of the story aren’t adding up to me (e.g., the original course title; the screen grab above suggests differently). i’m also surprised that you would continue to work with a company that would so incorrectly present your work.

    and it doesn’t matter which path people take to their best selves. but, from my perspective, it does matter how they are lured onto their chosen path. i only wish to see honesty, integrity and transparency from yoga teachers.

    • i contacted Udemy about their course creation policy and this was their response:

      “One of the greatest features of our platform is that instructors have complete control and ownership of their content, and that includes the title and description.”

  10. “check out her def’n of ‘weight loss’: “when I say “weight loss”, I mean getting rid of what weighs one down on ALL levels. I immediately describe that in my marketing copy, as well as making sure to say “excess weight”, not just all weight.”

    Does anybody else find that highly problematic?”f

    Yes, the definition of excess weight is still very subjective. I’m in New York City: in my new neighborhood, I am pretty much the right weight (for me, anyway). In the adjoining neighborhood that I got priced out of, I could really lose a nice chunk of weight, never mind my bone structure, etc. ….

    In addition, but no less important,

    There is a better way to finesse this, If that’s the minimum intention, and I am quoting a popular teacher from Myyogaonline, whose video was also re-marketed/cross-marketed by them as being for weight loss; it was actually marketed by the instructor as something else:

    “…Perhaps we should have titled this one “Flowing Practice for Mental & Physical Weight Loss!? I think that maintaining a strong, healthy body is important, I also feel that its essential that we undertake practices that help us cut through some of the mental baggage that weighs us all down from time to time. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed, fearful, or assailed by doubt, I feel so incredibly heavy inside. When I feel like this, I do my best to practice pranayama and meditation to balance my mind and I can’t think of a single instance where I didn’t feel a greater sense of freedom and lightness afterward. In my opinion, this type of inner lightness is one of the most amazing things that yoga has to offer and something that can without doubt be cultivated through practice.”

  11. Sadie says, “Something that might be confusing to you, unless you read the course itself, or know my teachings, is that when I say “weight loss”, I mean getting rid of what weighs one down on ALL levels. I immediately describe that in my marketing copy, as well as making sure to say “excess weight”, not just all weight.”

    IMO, NO ONE in North American culture thinks of this when they hear “weight loss”, except, apparently Ms. Nardini. The phrase “weight loss” immediately taps into the widespread judgement and fear that surrounds body image, primarily for women.

    Besides, if you’re advertising on Facebook, you’re advertising presumably to a much wider audience than what you’ve been able to reach by just teaching to roomfuls of people — and therefore people who are NOT already familiar with your teachings and your idiosyncratic view of “weight loss”. It’s clearly a snare phrase. It’s nice if the ultimate teaching is what she says it is (losing all excess weight, emotional and otherwise) but the reasons for using the phrase in the first place are suspect and frankly, nothing new.

    • I agree. I would I also like to know what does “calorie torching” mean in Sadie-speak, since it’s one of her favourite YouTube keywords!

  12. This is the struggle that never ends, right? The struggle to preserve the integrity of the practice of yoga in a society that is not built to understand its core message. It is a message far too subtle to be easily grasped by a society addicted to strong sensations, instant gratification and the pull of the ego.

    I believe that it’s important to maintain that integrity. That our community continues to have debates like this so that we don’t fall into the trap of changing the packaging. If yoga is a tool for transforming our selves and consequently, our world, then we cannot keep trying to mimic that world. We have to stand apart from it and show that there is an alternative.

    Keep the conversation going, I say. The moment this conversation stops is the moment that yoga’s integrity will be lost.

    xo!

  13. As someone who has studied directly with Sadie for a few years I can tell you first hand that she is what she says. She is honest, transparent and following this path to help people uncover who they are meant to be. She does help people to “lose weight”. I am not sure what is wrong with that in a culture that is killing itself with poor nutrition, lack of exercise and overwork? Her interpretation of the teachings are contemporary, informed and come from a place of sincerity and love. If you don’t want to lose weight (mental or otherwise) don’t take the course! If you do want to learn to move in the body you have now in a way that makes you feel amazing and may lead to a leaner and/or healthier form, then great, do that.

    When I saw the bikini ad, I thought, “well, that will get people talking!”. I wondered if it was Sadie who wrote it or not as she can be controversial when she wants to be. I thought about it and find it interesting that the ad did not define what a “bikini body” was. We assume that it means skinny, toned and tanned. My teachers (including Sadie) have taught me that my body with its sags, cellulite, scars and lumps is perfect just as it is. I wear my bikini proudly because my body is the tangible story of my life and it is beautiful just as it is. That’s the greatest weight I’ve lost since starting the practice almost over 10 years ago.

    In Light & Love,
    ~k

    • hi kim ~ thanks for offering your story. i don’t have personal experience with sadie nardini, although i’ve heard many positive things about her and i hope to one day at least do a workshop with her. this conversation isn’t intended to put down her teaching method or insult her as a person; it’s meant to bring attention to the bigger questions of how yoga is marketed and sold.

      the current yoga viral sensation is the arthur boorman video, about a disabled war vet who loses weight and regains his ability to walk thanks to yoga with diamond dallas page. DDP definitely has some questionable teaching practices (e.g., girls in bikinis in his videos, stripping away the oms and namastes). but the video is inspiring and if DDP’s yoga helped this guy become healthier and happier, then that’s awesome.

      same thing applies here. if people are doing yoga with sadie and feeling better about their lives, then great. but i reserve the right to question how she markets her work, and i find it insincere and in bad taste to use the promise of “weight loss” to sell yoga to women.

      thanks for stopping by and sharing your first hand experience!

  14. I think that the underlying question to be addressed is: What is the cultural significance of the term “weight loss” in North American society? Until you answer this more abstract question, you can’t address the issues at play in Sadie’s ads.

    Sadie and Kim both seems to think that “weight loss” is a very flexible term: e.g., it’s easy to shift its meaning with a few explanatory comments, such as – it’s not simply about your body, it’s also about “losing weight” from your mind. And as easily as that, most people will “get it” and internalize a “yogic” understanding of weight loss.

    The alternative view is that the term “weight loss” carries heavy (pun unintended 🙂 cultural freight. It’s not possible to shift its meaning so easily. Say “weight loss” and the many products of the big, long-lived, highly profitable, and deeply intertwined industries of dieting, advertising, modeling all get triggered: body image issues, weighing, fad diets — all driven by a deep desire to look like air-brushed, Photoshopped images of tall, thin beautiful women who have not a trace of body fat yet still possess big breasts (not a very common combo without the aid of plastic surgery . . . ). Saying something like “weight loss also involves losing weight from your mind” is not enough to counteract this cultural onslaught, at least not for the vast majority of people.

    Perhaps needless to say, I think that the second scenario is the realistic one. The first is a story that some people tell themselves so that they don’t have to deal with the difficulties of our body-image deranged culture. From a yoga marketing perspective, it’s particularly nice because it makes it possible to tap into the huge market of women that are desperate to lose weight for what are ultimately unhealthy, media- and insecurity-driven reasons — but without having to grapple with difficult questions such as: what are you stirring up when you do this? How is this compatible with yoga?

    It’s much easier to believe that it’s possible to wave difficult social realities away with a magic wand and start from a clean slate, whatever is most convenient to work with. But this is not a responsible or empathic course of action for a yoga teacher to take – in my opinion.

  15. The comment Roseanne was waiting for lol 🙂
    We’ve had a brief Twitter talk where I mentioned how the discussion she raised opened my eyes on a new perspective about myself and my job.

    I am a PR, Marketing and Advertising consultant and a professed yoga sceptic. Probably in the deep of my heart I love it more than many who jumped on the bandwagon telling out and loud how much they loved yoga while not understanding it, and this is because approaching it critically helped me scratch away the BS of the new age scams you all know about already, and all things slightly related to some ancient eastern philosophy with nothing rational in it (and eastern philosophy as a whole is no less rational than western one).
    I realised my love for yoga when I read the discussion about this misleading advertising (ironically I like Sadie Nardini very much past the glittery surface) and noticed how much I cared about a real understanding of the person or product I promote and how this doesn’t get along well with the general trend in marketing and it looks like a proper matter of ethics.
    In a sense, a misleading advertising of what Sadie offers (whether it’s her or someone else to change her words or whatever) will address people with certain issues to enrol in something that is deeper than the way she presents it. Instead of pumping her poor offer, she presents herself as less than she is to address a wider range. She wouldn’t get to that group of people with body issues in any other way, and that group of people need empowerment.
    In an age of self-claimed experts that often do more harm than good it may even sound noble, so it raised a question that for what I do for a living is vital: is it right to mislead people into buying something just because that something does good to them and it’s not a fraud meant to damage them? Reality don’t always sell things, especially when competition is high and there are many sharks in the field.
    I didn’t expect myself to be this ethical, to be honest, because I am actually good at my job (not my opinion) so I assumed I must be a shark who had a different teacher than others. I then contemplated changing my career, but maybe my goal in life should be to change the trend, addressing like-minded marketers and clients.

    Sorry, it turned out to be a very long comment…

  16. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about yoga. Regards

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