Oprah vs. Kirstie: Let the Celebrity 'Wellness' Battle Begin

Kirstie Alley Stars in a New Jenny Craig Ad as Oprah Winfrey Starts Promoting Weight Watchers

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Kirstie Alley for Jenny Craig
Kirstie Alley for Jenny Craig Credit: Courtesy Jenny Craig

Kirstie Alley and Oprah Winfrey are about to go head-to-head as celebrity endorsers of diet programs. It's quite a change from 2005.

Back then Ms. Alley was still the new face of the Jenny Craig plan, which promotes one-on-one consultations and weekly food purchases, and was starring in "Fat Actress" on Showtime. She went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in May 2005 and talked about losing more than 33 pounds on Jenny Craig. The diet-plan company was so excited about the appearance it issued a press release saying that inquiry calls to its centers in North America jumped 81% in the days after the episode aired.

Now, the 60-something women, who have publicly struggled with their weight, star in new campaigns: Ms. Alley continuing with Jenny Craig and Ms. Winfrey showing her early success on Weight Watchers. The campaigns, which kick off as people prepare to kick-start diets in the new year, both aim to keep the weight loss center chains relevant to current and potential customers with numerous other ways to track weight loss such as apps and wearable fitness trackers.

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Ms. Alley's latest spot for Jenny Craig mimics "Cheers," the show that helped make her a star. Ms. Winfrey's new campaign for Weight Watchers, where she is now an investor, board member and is using the program, includes early commercials produced by Ms. Winfrey and her creative producing team at OWN, Weight Watchers said.

Along with the campaign focused on Ms. Alley, Jenny Craig is showing "Thank You" testimonials from members who have succeeded on the program and their family members. Jenny Craig's newest commercials are set to begin airing on Jan. 1.

"This a competitive, difficult category and it's essential that we have a clear, differentiated positioning," said Mike Raymond, chief marketing officer of Curves and Jenny Craig.

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Jenny Craig and Ms. Alley first announced their connection in December 2004, then parted ways in 2007 before reuniting in 2014. The brand's other celebrity endorsements over the years included Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah and Valerie Bertinelli. It moved away from the celebrity-focused campaigns under prior CMO Leesa Eichberger, then returned to them in 2014 with Ms. Alley's "Coming Home" campaign. That effort and the latest work are from LRXD Denver.

The campaign comes after a growth year for Jenny Craig, which was founded in 1983 by Jenny and Sid Craig. After other owners, including Nestle, it was acquired in 2013 by private equity firm North Castle Partners, which also owns the Curves line of fitness clubs. Roughly 50 centers now combine the two brands and have done well. While there are no plans for a national cross-promotion of the two chains, collaborations are "a major opportunity for both brands moving forward," Mr. Raymond said.

The Jenny Craig plan requires buying frozen meals, which the company asserts help people learn about portion control while allowing them to eat the kinds of foods they enjoy such as chicken carbonara and chocolate cake. "The typical person coming to us has failed on other programs," Mr. Raymond said.

Jenny Craig also sells starter kits at Walmart and sells some of Ms. Alley's Organic Liaison items.

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Meanwhile, Weight Watchers is beginning to turnaround after revenue and profit fell in 2013, 2014 and the first nine months of 2015. Its stock price more than tripled in the weeks after it announced Ms. Winfrey's involvement in October. Its new "Beyond the Scale" plan, which Ms. Winfrey has been using, launched in early December. It has a different SmartPoints tracking plan and suggests members eat more foods such as lean protein, fruits and vegetables.

Ms. Winfrey's first commercial for Weight Watchers began appearing in late December, via her own social media outlets and later on TV. The latest debuted on TV on Tuesday night.

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"Let's let 2016 be the year of our best bodies," Ms. Winfrey says in the latest spot, also set to air during New Year's Eve programming including Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest on ABC, NBC New Year's Eve with Carson Daly and Pitbull's New Year's Revolution on Fox.

When asked about his competitor's new campaign and endorsement, Mr. Raymond said "time will tell. In a competitive marketplace it really comes down to your positioning, what's your competitive advantage."

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