Diet Marketer Beefed up Ad Spending in '05

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NEW YORK ( -- As prime diet season approaches, NutriSystem is ramping up its marketing significantly with a push aimed at an untraditional target: men.
Nutrisystem has revamped its men's Web site and is increasing its TV advertising aimed at males.

The diet business, usually slow over the summer and fall season, has soared this year, and NutriSystem has done better than most. Although it’s still only about one-fifth the size of leader Weight Watchers, it tripled revenue last year to $200 million, according to researcher Marketdata Enterprises.

Spending hit $35 million
Tom Connerty, NutriSystem’s chief marketing officer, said the company quadrupled ad spending to $35 million in 2005 and now wants to build on that momentum with short-form direct response TV, a test of longer-form infomercials and an expansion of its NutriSystem for Men program.

Though NutriSystem has had a men’s program for two years, it only accounts for 15% to 20% of sales, because, Mr. Connerty said, “we haven’t aggressively gone after them the way we have to women.” That will change in the first quarter, with a newly revamped men’s Web site, commercials specifically aimed at men and expanded efforts in male-targeted print publications. NutriSystem handles its advertising in-house.

The difference in creative strategy will largely center around findings that while vanity and health issues are key drivers for men to diet, “with men you can talk to them a little more bluntly, a little less about hand-holding, encouragement and concern and more about ‘these are the results you’re going to get,’” Mr. Connerty said.

Other audience niches
NutriSystem is also segmenting its potential audience with special programs for the over-60 set (both men and women), which it will target with specific advertising, and programs for diabetics and vegetarians. All of the advertising is direct response, featuring NutriSystem’s Web site or 800 number.

Mr. Connerty attributes NutriSystem’s recent success to convenience. Consumers order online or by phone and get five weeks of food, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, shipped directly to their door, plus an exercise plan, for $280.

“It’s hard in today’s time-starved world to find the time to drive to a center for weigh-ins,” Mr. Connerty said, noting that despite other programs’ newer online or phone counseling services, “you still have to go in and get the food.”

South Beach diet success
Convenience is clearly becoming more of a factor in dieting, as Kraft Foods’ surprising success with its South Beach Diet line suggests. Despite initial skepticism from industry watchers, Kraft’s introduction last January of a convenient line of meals, snacks and bars based on the best-selling diet book from Dr. Arthur Agatston (it gained popularity during the low-carb craze) recently hit the $150 million mark.

Kraft is expanding the franchise next year with a new hot breakfast line to supplement its cereals and breakfast bars.

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