After the carb craze: Diet marketers bet on balanced options

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After a year-and-a-half of gorging on sausage and bacon, the weight-loss industry expects consumers to seek customized, balanced options. Jenny Craig, which is using actress Kirstie Alley as its spokeswoman, eDiets and Weight Watchers International will emphasize their flexible plans in new advertising. General Mills, also negatively impacted by the low-carb craze, unveils a weight-loss program, Brand New You, based on its cereal, yogurt and frozen-vegetable products.

John LaRosa, research director for Tampa, Fla.-based consultant Marketdata Enterprises, suggested that the roughly 54 million dieters in the U.S. will in 2005 "turn to other regimens more sustainable over the long term." Customization and simplification, he said, will be key.

Weight Watchers was particularly hard hit by low-carb diets, with a significant drop-off in North-American sales and attendance over the last two years following a pre-Atkins boom, where growth levels reached as high as 15%. But Mr. LaRosa expects Weight Watchers will bounce back the best from the backlash against the fad as it "still is the gold standard in terms of name recognition and has the clout to spend dollars on advertising." Weight Watchers spent $28.1 million in media during the first nine months of the year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

In August, Weight Watchers began offering a more moderate Core Plan diet alongside its long-time Flexible Points program that eliminates the need to count points and does not restrict portion sizes. Despite having shifted its creative from independent shop the Seiden Group, New York, to WPP Group's Young & Rubicam, New York, in November, Weight Watchers' new January effort was developed by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, a Weight Watchers roster shop overseas. The revised version of the diet center's initial spots to introduce the dual-option TurnAround plan this summer features the tagline, "Watch yourself change." Y&R will develop a campaign for spring.

two new campaigns

Jenny Craig has likewise suffered from the low-carb trend, seeing only modest growth of late. But it is blazing into the New Year with two campaigns-first a series of home videos of client success stories touting "A new year, a new you," and then the launch Jan. 10 of celebrity spokeswoman Kirstie Alley. Unlike previous Jenny Craig campaigns featuring celebrity clients, who came on board after their success with the program, the new campaign will follow Ms. Alley's efforts to lose 50-plus pounds while she stars in Showtime's "Fat Actress" series.

Scott Parker, VP-marketing for Jenny Craig, said he feels confident about the approach and Ms. Alley's ability to lose the weight because of her success with the program 14 years ago, when she was able to lose 15 pounds and keep it off for 10 years. The spots, from J. Walter Thompson, New York, will loosely follow the theme, "Have you called Jenny yet?"

Marketdata estimates that the U.S. weight-loss and diet-control market totaled $44.6 billion in 2004 ($1.5 billion toward weight-loss centers) and projects it will grow to $48.8 billion by 2006. General Mills hopes to get a portion of that as it launches a free, customizable Web-based weight-management program, Brand New You, that promises to help consumers lose 10 pounds with a 10-week meal plan featuring 80 General Mills brands from Yoplait to Green Giant.

Sunday newspaper inserts this month as well as packages of Big G cereals and Yoplait will tout the Web site,, as will 6,000 in-store demos and point-of-sale materials that General Mills hopes will spark large displays bundling many of its health-targeted products.

The ease of at-home online dieting has prompted great success for, whose membership has grown in a few short years to more than 200,000, according to Harriet Gallu, the site's VP-brand marketing. EDiets, which partners with a variety of plans including Atkins and Slim-Fast Optima, supported its primary online media investment with a cable TV buy last year that helped double visits to the site, Ms. Gallu said. This year, a mostly syndicated and broadcast TV buy will be used to tout a campaign featuring the four reasons " can work for everybody:" variety, 24/7 support, private online weigh-ins and its lifestyle-assessment method.

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