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Weight Watchers’ Big Fat Marketing Dilemma

05 Dec

Marketing

Weight Watchers’ Big Fat Marketing Dilemma

By  on December 03, 2012

Jessica Simpson isn’t getting fat. She’s just pregnant again. (Of course, she hasn’t yet confirmed the happy news, but her statement to People—”I’m not going to comment on this speculation”—is, in celebrity baby talk, the equivalent of posting a sonogram on her Facebook (FB) page.)

Either way, it’s a potential problem for Weight Watchers (WTW), which signed up Simpson as a spokeswoman less than a year ago. The endorsement deal, worth an estimated $3 million, wasn’t supposed to pay out in full until Simpson reached her weight goal. This fall, she was noticeably slimmer, rocking a pair of Daisy Dukes for the paparazzi in L.A.

Now the company has a quandary. No company can control when its spokespeople eat, work out, or procreate, a fact that creates special pitfalls for Weight Watchers and other companies selling the promise of weight loss. Kirstie Alley, star of Fat Actress, starred in commercials for Jenny Craig, only to regain the pounds she’d shed. Even Jared, who slimmed down at Subway, was snapped looking chubby several years after he rose to skinny fame. Weight Watchers declined to comment for this story.

If signing on famous people to lose weight is so unreliable, why do diet companies do it? It certainly would be easier (and cheaper) for Weight Watchers to find a more predictable spokesperson—say, a cartoon character they could slim down at will—or to abandon the spokesperson model entirely.

Grant Johnson, chief executive of Brookfield (Wisc.) marketing agency Johnson Direct, says a company such as Weight Watchers benefits from a recognizable, believable, aspirational person. And Simpson’s $3 million deal was small relative to the $292 million the company says it spent on marketing in 2011.

Still, there’s maybe a better reason for diet companies to abandon stars: They may not be shining so brightly. Ask the average person to name a favorite Weight Watchers spokesperson—Jessica Simpson, Kirstie Alley, or Marie Osmond—and Johnson doubts any of them would know that Alley sold Jenny Craig, while Osmond repped NutriSystem (NTRI). “It just creates more confusion in the category,” says Johnson.Even Weight Watchers spokesman Charles Barkley has expressed doubts about being a spokesperson. Earlier this year, the “round mound of rebound” got caught disparaging his endorsement deal on air during a Hawks-Heat basketball game when he thought the microphone was off. “I thought this was the greatest scam going—getting paid for watching sports—this Weight Watchers thing is a bigger scam,” he said. Still, Barkley, who ballooned to 350 pounds and reportedly has a target weight of 270 pounds, remains a spokesperson and had lost 50 pounds by April. And so far, no one has confused him with Marie Osmond.

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3 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

3 responses to “Weight Watchers’ Big Fat Marketing Dilemma

  1. bananas320

    December 7, 2012 at 1:05 am

    The use of real people in these kinds of advertisements makes the whole program appear more real! A cartoon character would not generate any kind of wow factor. People like to see these celebrities and visualize themselves in their position so they can say “Hey, that could be me!”. As for the women (and men for that matter) that go on with their lives and may gain that weight back, due to ‘its not our business’, it doesnt change the fact they lost the wieght in the first place. I dont think that it is bad to have these kinds of spokespeople at all, and as mentioned above it seems like a small part of the budget for such a large audience to recognize.

     
  2. simmons1216

    December 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I wouldn’t think that Weight Watchers would be a believable company if they didn’t use a spokesperson, but I would rather see real people use the service instead of celebrities. I have a tendency to not believe celebrities are actually doing anything and are just being photoshopped. I would relate to a normal person more than I would a celebrity.

     
  3. maverick41

    December 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    The whole reason this is even an article is BECAUSE of the celebrities. You just have to expect this sort of thing when you bring in people who are already rich and therefore do not have any “real” reason to lose weight. Yes, I understand that celebrities will have much more of an impact on a majority of the American people simply based on the fact that we look to them as gods (I digress). But I would like to think seeing the impact of weight watchers on just a normal person with a normal job would go much further to an audience because they will be able to relate to that person. Especially when it comes to weight loss, people want to know that it is do-able and seeing others who have done it that you’ve never seen before in your life would probably make it much more believable. A huge part of selling a product that can literally change someone’s life is having the ability to relate to others who have used the product. Pretty sure that none of us can relate to Charles Barkley or Jessica Simpson, just saying!

     

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