Coming Soon to Weight Watchers Ads: Oprah

Weight-Loss Marketer Teases Winter Campaign Starring Their Famous New Investor

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Oprah Fronts Weight Watchers Web Site
Oprah Fronts Weight Watchers Web Site Credit: courtesy Weight Watchers International

Weight Watchers is not wasting time plugging new investor Oprah Winfrey into its ads. Ms. Winfrey -- who in October bought 10% of Weight Watchers International and joined its board -- will "be part of the upcoming winter season marketing effort, inviting prospective members to join her on her journey," Weight Watchers CEO Jim Chambers said on an earnings call Thursday.

Mr. Chambers did not disclose creative details. But he suggested that Ms. Winfrey would "candidly share her experiences through a variety of means, including an action plan where she will invite prospective members to come join her."

He also suggested that the news of her investment is already having an impact on the brand, which has struggled in recent years amid competition from free weight-loss apps. Media reports on Ms. Winfrey's new role have led to "significant improvement in visitors to our website, which has translated into a strong response in the business," he said. A large image of Ms. Winfrey dominates the front page of the marketer's U.S. website, along with the phrase "I'm ready. Are you? Come join me."

Still, it remains to be seen if the Oprah effect can lift Weight Watchers from a long-running slump. The company reported a 20.8% decline in revenues to $273.3 million for the third quarter ending Oct. 3. North American revenues plummeted by 17.9%, as meeting fees dropped by 18.1% and online fell by 16.4%, the company stated. For the full year, the company projected total marketing spending of $200 million. That is down by $60 million from 2014, although $15 million of the decrease is related to foreign exchange rates, said Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Hotchkin.

Ms. Winfrey's investment, which was announced on Oct. 19, comes as Weight Watchers changes its mission from being a weight loss company to one that more broadly helps people lead "healthier, happier lives." This new purpose will be supported by a new program the company will roll out in December, the company stated Thursday.

On the call, Mr. Chambers called it the "perhaps the most significant program innovation in our company's history," adding that the strategy reflects a more "holistic mindset as we expand our purpose from weight loss alone to more broadly helping people lead healthier, happier lives. With our launch next month, we will be unveiling a whole new Weight Watchers."

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