Weight Loss Offensive: Jenny Craig’s New Push

April 14th, 2008

In 2004, the skin-care and beauty products giant Unilever broke with marketing convention and launched an ad campaign for its Dove brand using “real” women – some of them decidedly overweight – as models.

At the time, observers applauded the company for putting its advertising muscle behind positive body image messaging, but the consensus seemed to be that it would soon revert back to its old ways.

Fast forward to 2008 and not only is Unilever still running Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, but other marketers are jumping on the real people bandwagon.

As the Boston Globe reports in an article by Brian Steinberg, an editor with the ad industry trade magazine Advertising Age, Jenny Craig’s recent hiring of Queen Latifah as its new weight loss spokeswoman is further proof that Unilever’s bold move has sparked a trend.

Ms. Latifah, in case you’ve missed the ads, is the face – and plus-size body – of a Jenny Craig diet plan that emphasizes healthy living.

In the past, Jenny Craig’s plans, like those of most other diet companies, have tended to focus purely on weight loss. Think of diet industry ads featuring spokespeople such as Valerie Bertinelli, a Jenny Craig spokeswoman, showing off their striking before-and-after pictures. The new Jenny Craig plan takes a different tack, stressing the health benefits of weight loss, even if it’s just five to 10 percent of a person’s weight.

The company is appealing to “people who have more health-related and perhaps more moderate weight-loss goals,” said Scott Parker, Jenny Craig’s vice president of marketing.

Glaxo is another marketer putting an emphasis on health and realistic weight loss. It’s ads for the over-the-counter diet aid alli, which launched in the United States in June 2007, promotes weight loss of just one to two pounds a week.

It also stresses the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating habits.

So what’s going on here? Have traditional, for-profit companies such as Unilever, Jenny Craig and Glaxo suddenly got religion. After years of exploiting our insecurities about our bodies, is it possible that they now are concerned about our health?

Hardly. Jenny Craig is not, for example, shutting down its ad campaigns showcasing celebrities who have dropped several dress sizes. Rather, in introducing the new plan, it is attempting to expand its market reach.

The Queen Latifah ads are intended to generate new sales in a market sector that previously did not respond to its promotional overtures.

This sector is made up of people who have abandoned the pursuit of an ideal body shape. But if they’ve given up hope of regaining their 20-year-old figures, they haven’t given up on their health, or on controlling their weight altogether.

Marketers are discovering new buttons to push that will encourage these wayward customers to return to the fold. Sure, they might not buy weight loss products for the same reason as people who vainly desire to be starlet thin.

But they’ll buy them just the same.

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