After Leesa Eichberger took the chief marketing job for Jenny Craig a few months ago, she got a similar response from people when sharing the news: "Oh, I love Jennifer Hudson."
There was one problem. Ms. Hudson stars for Weight Watchers, not Jenny Craig. For Ms. Eichberger, the confusion symbolized the problem plaguing weight-management advertising. "The category just has a sea of same," she said, marked by celebrity-filled spots and before-and-after pictures.
That is why for its next campaign debuting Monday, Jenny Craig is ditching the celebs. No more Valerie Bertinelli, Mariah Carey or Jason Alexander, who have all appeared in Jenny ads in recent years. Rather, the Nestle-owned marketer is taking a simpler approach with animated ads that plug its portion-controlled food and one-on-one support.
"It's a change for the category, to actually say what we do," Ms. Eichberger said, rather than "go down that same clichéd path that is out there."
The campaign, by Havas, New York, comes as traditional weight-loss marketers are finding the going rough as they battle competition from do-it-yourself apps like Myfitnesspal.com. Weight Watchers, the traditional leader for paid plans, recently changed CEOs after reporting poor earnings results. Parent Nestle does not disclose Jenny Craig profits. But on an analyst call on Aug. 8, Chief Financial Officer Wan Ling Martello said the Jenny Craig business "was very much below our expectations."
Ms. Eichberger, a former VP-marketing for Vonage whose hobbies include running triathlons, was brought on to help turn the business around. Her moves have included launching an ad-agency review that she expects to complete by the end of the year. (She declined to discuss who is participating in the review.)
The marketer's previous campaign, which was handled in-house, showcased the type of before-and-after shots that Ms. Eichenberger wants to move away from. Havas, which is participating in the review, was brought in on an interim basis to handle the new campaign, which is timed with the back-to-school period.
The Jenny Craig system includes selling packaged meals and personal consultations by phone or at one of the company's more than 600 company-owned and franchised centers in the U.S., France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico. In a significant shift, the company will soon begin selling food online, with consultation provided through email and other electronic tools.
While the move is meant to appeal to do-it-yourself dieters, Ms. Eichberger said the company's core business will remain its in-person support plans. In an attempt to make those plans more accessible, the company is rolling out new pricing plans such as "Jenny As You Go," which for $39.99 a-month is modeled after a gym membership in that consumers can cancel any month, rather than make a long-term commitment. That price does not include food, which ranges from $15 to $22 per day.
As more consumers rush to do-it-yourself apps that typically include calorie-counting functions, Jenny is trying to position itself as a simpler -- albeit more costly -- solution. In the new ad, a hammer smashes a calculator, as a voice-over declares that the "endless counting ends."
"Apps are good for some people … but you are not being held accountable," Ms. Eichberger said. "When you are talking to someone every week you feel an obligation to follow the diet," she said.
The new approach does not spell the total end for Ms. Bertinelli, the marketer's longtime spokeswoman who last appeared in an ad in June, 2012. She will be kept on contract, Ms. Eichberger said. "Our celebrity ambassadors are great partners," she said. But "I just don't think they can be the core of our message."