Big Players in Diet Industry Shift Focus to Online Presences

Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers Launch Internet-Only Offers and Deals, Change Approach to Losing Weight

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NEW YORK ( -- The battle of the bulge is increasingly being waged on the web.

Heavyweights in the $60 billion weight-loss industry -- Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and NutriSystem -- are still on track to spend a combined nearly half a billion dollars on TV and print, according to TNS Media Intelligence and Marketdata Enterprises.
As a Jenny Craig spokeswoman, Queen Latifah preaches health, not thinness.
As a Jenny Craig spokeswoman, Queen Latifah preaches health, not thinness.
But increasingly, those traditional ads are being used to draw consumers online, where they can view commercials, read dieting blogs, and download weight-loss tools such as recipes and calorie-counters that track their progress.

Internet and home-delivery diets are the fastest-growing segments of the market, according to John LaRosa, research director at Marketdata Enterprises, an independent market-research firm. Mr. LaRosa said, "70% of the target consumers are do-it-yourself dieters, and they try several different types of programs."

Market leader Weight Watchers is spending more of its ad dollars promoting its website. The site has more than 600,000 paying subscribers representing 10% of its estimated $1.5 billion in revenue for 2007, up 20% from last year, Mr. LaRosa said.

Trashing diets
While the core of the Weight Watchers program has been meetings, its increasingly popular online program offers the option of managing weight loss without the group setting. Its site offers a link to a MySpace page hosted by vlogger and Weight Watchers success story Faintstarlite (real name Esther Brady). Ms. Brady is expected to do weekly vlogs and lead a viral campaign in which consumers submit their worst diet experiences to be displayed on a Times Square interactive billboard. The approach, led by McCann Erickson, New York, jibes with the industry's move to strike the negative connotations of the word "diet" and equate it with health. "Stop dieting. Start living," reads its new tagline.

The site for Nestlé-owned Jenny Craig's Jenny Direct program, which offers home delivery of food products and long-distance counseling, was recently relaunched; it offers a free suite of e-tools to track weight and measure progress.

While the website for home-delivery-diet company NutriSystem focuses on testimonials from regular customers, Jenny Craig uses celebrity endorsers and follows their transformations on the program. On its site, people can watch commercials and access a diary and videos from spokeswoman Valerie Bertinelli. It's also added Queen Latifah to promote a "Healthy Curves" approach that encourages people to take the first steps to healthy weight loss. "She is not interested in losing a significant amount of weight," said Steven Bellach, Jenny Craig's senior director of advertising, branding and media. "She recognizes she's a role model and wants to do her part."

Jenny Craig, whose sales for the first three quarters of 2007 are estimated by Mr. LaRosa at $530 million, is expanding its marketing through an experiential campaign that places trick mirrors in New Jersey and California malls. The mirrors "instantly" take off 10 to 15 pounds to show prospects potential weight-loss results. A sampling component helps combat one of the weight-loss industry's biggest challenges: skepticism about how the food tastes.

David Chalfant, director-brand strategy and design at Fathom Communications, which handled the promotion for Jenny Craig, said the "Mirror in the Mall" campaign's initial tryout met expectations in lead generation and exceeded them in number of appointments. "Integrated marketing is an academic conversation unless you are able to reach out and connect. Finalizing the connection is the trick." The campaign could be expanded to 20 major markets across the nation if leads start generating expected appointments.
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